Brentwood High School Principal Kevin Keidel and Williamson County Schools leaders addressed a "disturbing" and "heartbreaking" photo of a Brentwood High student circulating social media Thursday.
The photo shows a student with a racial slur written on his stomach and also references Black Lives Matter (BLM).
"There is a disturbing and honestly heartbreaking picture circulating on social media that I want to address with each and every one of you," Keidel wrote in an email to Brentwood families. "Frankly, I see the post as racist and offensive. While I acknowledge that it is the week of the Battle of the Woods, and some of the choices made during this week aren’t wise, there is no excuse for this type of behavior no matter when it was done or when it was shared. You must make better choices and the time to begin is now."
WCS parents have expressed concern that incidents like this continue to happen.
Earlier this month, a picture circulated social media that appeared to be a social media post from an Independence High School Football Twitter page that contained offensive language towards Centennial High School. The Independence Football page wrote later that day that the picture contained a fake post.
Additionally, an Instagram page called Dearest WCS contains hundreds of anonymous stories about bullying and discrimination from what appear to be WCS students and parents.
WCS Communications Director Carol Birdsong said while the specifics of student discipline cannot be shared for confidentiality reasons, WCS Superintendent Jason Golden has made addressing all situations that include inappropriate racial comments and actions a focus this year in the district.
"Mr. Golden has emphasized to administrators and faculty this year that any incident of inappropriate racial behavior must be reported to school administration and appropriately addressed. That is being done in this case," Birdsong said. "We know that we must continuously work with students, faculty and staff to teach appropriate, respectful behavior and give appropriate discipline when incidents such as this are discovered, and we recognize that this takes a continued, daily effort."
She added Golden has been "meeting with and listening to students and staff, hearing their stories and working together toward improvement" in this area.
"This is another incident that emphasizes that we continuously have work to do with students, faculty and staff," Golden said concerning the incident on Thursday.
Later, during the WCS Board of Education work session on Thursday, Golden addressed the issue before the board and read Keidel's statement.
"Race is an issue that everyone — everyone in this entire nation — needs to be cognizant of and work on," Golden said during the meeting.
He shared that the district has made "appropriate discipline" for each incident like this "a point of emphasis."
District 3 board member Eliot Mitchell shared that he believes a letter from the school principal "does not address the problem sufficiently."
"I am a supporter of having us look at our policy around racist activity and incidents and make sure that our policies are sufficient to allow the necessary actions that need to be taken to absolutely remove any type of appearance that this is acceptable behavior," he said. "I'm a believer that it's absolutely a systemic problem, and it has no place at all in our system."
Golden shared that Dana Ausbrooks, the general counsel for WCS, has been reviewing the district's policies in this way, and he has been looking into professional development or training for the district around this issue as well.
"We may be coming to you in a couple months with some proposals," he said. "I think you know that our challenges predate us in this community — predate individual board members, predate me being superintendent — and it is something that we do take seriously."
Inetta Gaines, a WCS grandparent and member of the Cultural Competency Committee originally formed by former superintendent Mike Looney, said her granddaughter showed her the photo. She said she would like to see firmer consequences in these situations.
"No matter how many times Williamson County Schools puts out their code of conduct and that they won't tolerate racial incidents and bullying, they continue to happen," she said. "And I think they continue to happen because these kids don't really have consequences that really are firm enough to deter other kids from doing similar things."
Another WCS parent took to social media to challenge Brentwood High, saying "history has [its] eyes on you."
"Be better Brentwood High School!" the parent wrote. "Listen and learn, be kind! Teach these kids that they must never defend racism!"
The remainder of Keidel's statement reads:
"When you participate in, retweet, share, post or comment on social media, you can be part of the problem or part of the solution. Something you think is funny may be hurtful to someone else, so why would you want to do that?
"If you stand by and witness bad behavior, you miss an opportunity to be better. You have the power to build bridges, mend fences and be leaders for good in our school, community and world. I believe that you can be better. I believe we can all be better.
"I don’t believe this is our image; I don’t believe this is the image that you want our school or greater community to have of you or of our school; and I don’t believe in my heart of hearts that you truly believe this type of behavior is appropriate.
"I believe you want your image and our school image to be a positive one, and I don’t believe you think this type of behavior is appropriate. This type of behavior does not represent our student body, school or district. No matter the reason, it is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.
"We obviously have more work to do to create a compassionate and safe place for all, and I’m ready and willing to work with each and every one of you to make Brentwood High such a place. Please join us in making Brentwood a more positive and welcoming place."