Thanks to screenshots of posts circulating on social media, as well as reports from his cohorts, at least one Newberg High School student was identified on Sept. 14 as being involved with a Snapchat group filled with hate speech and violent threats. The group, titled "Slave Trade," includes teenagers from around the country who post photos of Black classmates and joke about auctioning them off as slaves.
The messages included racist, homophobic and violent language, some directed specifically at Black students at NHS. It is unclear if more than one NHS student was a member of the group, which NHS administrators say was started by high school students in Michigan.
"They can run but they can't hide," the Newberg student, who is White but whose name will not be identified in this story, wrote in the Slave Trade group about two of his Black classmates after posting their photo. "100$ each. They like picking cotton."
"I'll take them for 150 as the pair," another member of the group replied.
"All blacks should die," another wrote. "Let's have another holocaust."
After outrage surfaced on social media from parents and community members when the screenshots of the chat were discovered, NHS principal Tami Erion sent a letter to students and parents condemning what occurred and said an investigation is ongoing.
"Newberg High School became aware of a very serious and inappropriate incident on social media in which one of our students took part in a Snapchat group termed 'Slave Trade' and used photos of other Newberg High School students in the group," Erion wrote. "Attached to the photos were derogatory comments that included racial and homophobic slurs. This chat originated in Michigan in late 2020 but our administrative team was just made aware of the group and our student's participation late Friday (Sept. 10). Students, parents and community members appropriately reported the Snapchat to school officials and we began an investigation immediately. While the investigation is still ongoing and we cannot comment on the specifics, we want to reassure our community that as we always do, we are following board policy as it relates to harassment, bullying and potential disciplinary actions.
"We are deeply dismayed that this behavior and activity was exhibited by someone from our community. We condemn actions such as these which represent the antithesis of what we believe and where we stand as a Newberg Nation family. As a community, we continue to grapple with issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Newberg High School is committed to ensuring that all students are afforded a safe learning environment by prohibiting harassment based upon gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion or disability."
Erion said there will be disciplinary consequences for the student's actions and more will be done to determine the scope of the harassment and threats made in the Snapchat group. She emphasized that counseling resources are available as well to students who wish to discuss this issue. Whether other students beyond the one identified were members of the group or participated in it remains to be seen.
Tai Harden-Moore, a Black woman and former candidate for Newberg school board, is the parent of an NHS student. She said Erion's statement is an important step, but that the school and district must do more to call out racism and bigotry for what it is.
She has been an outspoken critic of the Newberg School Board's controversial ban on political symbols.
"The fact that a student (or students) felt comfortable enough to take part in such abhorrent and disgusting behavior is a clear illustration of the racism and discrimination that plagues this community," Harden-Moore said. "It shows each of us how much work we need to do to make our community and schools welcoming to all people. Clearly, we have failed, but that does not mean we cannot do better, because we can and we must. I shudder when I think of how our Black and Brown students feel showing up this week. Especially considering the trepidation that they went to school with last week; not knowing what to expect after the harmful actions taken by four members of the school board banning Black Lives Matter and Pride symbols."
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