Two Silverton HS students suspended over racially-charged commen - KPTV - FOX 12

Two Silverton HS students suspended over racially-charged comments

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Community members gather in Silverton to support students targeted by racial slurs. (KPTV) Community members gather in Silverton to support students targeted by racial slurs. (KPTV)
Gabriela Rodriguez at Thursday's rally in Silverton. (KPTV) Gabriela Rodriguez at Thursday's rally in Silverton. (KPTV)
SILVERTON, OR (KPTV) -

Two students at Silverton High School were suspended for the day, after making racially-charged comments toward Hispanic students during a pro-Trump gathering on campus.

District leaders say about 30-40 students brought signs and banners to school Tuesday morning in support of Donald Trump, largely in the back of pick-up trucks parking in the student lot.

For the most part, the mood was light and the group was respectful.

However, three incidents happened throughout the course of the day: two students made inappropriate comments toward Hispanic students – one in the parking lot and the other inside the school building. Then, another student separate from the pro-Trump crowd drove a Confederate Flag through the parking lot, but was stopped by staff and took the flag down.

Witnesses say the comments made to Hispanic students were along the lines of “pack your bags, you’re leaving” and “tell your family goodbye.”

Senior Gabriela Rodriguez said she was one of the students on the receiving end.

“I was told to pack my bags and get ready,” she said. “I’ve been living here my whole life and I’ve never felt like such a minority.”

Rodriguez told Fox 12 she’s never been racially targeted before and appreciated the community members who came out to show their support for her – and other students – by holding signs near campus Thursday.

Dozens of people turned out for the show of solidarity, to spread a message of love, tolerance and respect.

“If these kids are getting hassled, insulted, threatened they need to know that Silverton has their back,” said participant Virginia Brown. “This is a home for everyone.”

Superintendent Andy Bellando and Silverton High Principal Justin Lieuallen told Fox 12 racially-charged behavior won’t be tolerated.

“Students do have a right to assemble as they did, and express their political views as they did, as long as it doesn’t become substantially disruptive to the school setting,” Bellando explained.

“This isn’t something that just started in the last 3 days,” Lieuallen added. “This is something that’s existed – not on a large scale, but something that we need to address.”

The district is working hard to do just that – not only now, but into the future as they work to teach students to express themselves with respect.

Lieuallen has been speaking with students and concerned parents ever since the incidents happened.

On Thursday, four separate assemblies were held at the high school where Lieuallen addressed each grade level individually. Going forward, he said there are plans in the works to not only unite the student body but also the greater community.

One of the ideas is to create a new school logo or motto based on the things that unite us all.

In a phone message to parents Tuesday, Lieuallen said:

“Today has been an emotionally charged day across our great country. It was refreshing to see our students wanting to be involved in the politics of our nation and feel empowered to respectfully share their thoughts, beliefs, and opinions as it's their first amendment right.  However, I regret to report that there were at least a couple of incidents today where our students overstepped this right and made statements or took action that was racist, harassing or intimidating in nature.  In all cases that we were aware of, we addressed the matter as a teachable moment with appropriate consequences.  We do not tolerate this type of behavior and we work hard to make sure SHS is a safe and accepting place for all of our students. I also shared this important message with our students today.  Please contact me directly if you have any questions or information that you feel is important for us to know.  Thank you for working together with the high school to support all of our students.  Have a wonderful evening.”

Lieuallen said some students - roughly 15 or so - stayed home from school Wednesday. At least some of them were back in class Thursday, although specific numbers were not immediately available.

He also said the other students who expressed support for Donald Trump said the comments made by the two students in question do not reflect them or their values.

“That was not what they wanted to represent,” he said. “That was something the individuals did.”

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