On Monday, I spoke with the family of a 15-year-old female student suspended from Shawnee Mission East High School after she was repeatedly punched in the face by a male classmate. The one-sided brouhaha left the girl with a broken nose, swollen jaw, cut lip, scratches to the face and other injuries, the girl’s parents, Linyka and Shaun, told me.
The girl’s family did not agree with the five-day suspension she received Nov. 15. She was expected to return to campus Wednesday.
Because the girl is the victim of a potential crime — her parents filed a report with the Prairie Village Police Department — I will refer to the parents by their first name. To protect the child’s identity, I won’t use her name at all.
Mission residents Linyka, Shaun and their daughter are Black. The unidentified male student in question is white. The couple is not taking their daughter’s alleged assault lightly. Nor should they.
They want authorities to pursue criminal charges against the boy who pushed and hit their daughter, the family told me. On Wednesday, that’s what happened. Good.
The 15-year-old male student was charged as a juvenile in Johnson County District Court with felony aggravated battery. He was additionally charged with aggravated battery, aggravated assault and battery in a different case from the summer.
After watching video footage of the altercation at East, who could blame Linyka and Shaun for getting law enforcement involved? Not only was the male student in question clearly the aggressor — he kicked off the skirmish by cursing at the girl, calling her a racial slur and shoving her.
There are consequences for fighting at school, according to the Shawnee Mission student handbook’s code of conduct policy. But context should matter. Why punish the girl for defending herself and others against racism at school?
The girl is proud of herself for standing up for a classmate another student referred to as a slave, she told me. She doesn’t know the boy, and he had nothing to do with a conversation she had with a white female student about using racist language.
Video of altercation shows boy the aggressor
The girl’s family believes the attack was racially motivated. According to cellphone footage of the fight, it’s hard to argue otherwise.
As the Black female student walks away from the white female student she confronted, the white male student is heard on video saying, “Man, shut the f*** up.”
Other students respond: “Who said that?”
“Me, (n-word) me,” the boy says. He turns around, drops his belongings to the floor and approaches the girl. Before they meet face-to-face in the hallway, his racist tirade continues.
“What?” he screams. “What? What (n-word) what?” He pushes the girl. “What?” he says.
After being pushed, the girl throws a punch and strikes the boy. She does little damage. But the pair trade blows. The male student overpowers his classmate and punches her in the face repeatedly.
“He was bigger and taller than me,” she said. “I had to protect myself from him.”
Shawnee Mission’s anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy does not specifically spell out punishment for racially-motivated violence, district officials told me. To deter other acts of unprovoked violence like this from ever happening again, maybe it should.
All students deserve protection from racial harassment or bullying on school grounds.
The boy’s school punishment for using a racial slur and starting a physical altercation with the girl was unknown. Citing student privacy, district officials were unable to comment on discipline handed down to individual students.
In what setting is it ever OK for a young man to use the n-word — twice, no less — and then shove a girl and deck her in the face? I would say none. Shawnee Mission East officials may beg to differ.
For Linyka and Shaun’s daughter, a sophomore at Shawnee Mission East in Prairie Village, standing up to hate resulted in a five-day suspension.
And that is disappointing. School leaders must protect all children under their care. In this case, building leaders failed to provide a self and welcoming learning environment for each student to thrive.
And the Shawnee Mission School Board of Education must address the unjust nature of the girl’s suspension, which could have a potential impact on her post-secondary plans.
Such a penalty doesn’t make logical sense. Why penalize a female student who defended herself against a male student much bigger and stronger than her?
Students: Racial slurs common, not punished
Earlier this week, minority students at Shawnee Mission East led a walkout to bring attention to issues with racism at the school. On Nov. 18, I met with a group of those same students at a Prairie Village coffee shop.
White students lob racial epithets at Black and Hispanic students with impunity, I was told. School leadership is aware of the students’ concerns of a hostile and discriminatory learning environment, they said.
Still, nothing has been done, according to the group. They want stronger policies and harsher penalties for hate speech.
Inaction from building leaders led to the altercation between the white male student and the girl, they said. They used their voice to bring attention to racism at Shawnee Mission East. Their suspended classmate was appreciative of the support, the girl told me.
“I’m proud of myself and other students for doing the right thing,” she said.
Linyka and Shaun’s daughter said she doesn’t regret confronting racist behavior at the school. In the fight with the boy, she acted in self-defense, she told me. It’s hard to argue that she didn’t.
“I think I did the right thing,” she said. “I wouldn’t change a thing about what I did. He put his hands on me first. It wasn’t right. They suspended me for no reason.”
Shawnee Mission East leaders must do more to protect all students. No student should be punished for standing up to racism.
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