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Manhattan high school sit-in over student allegations of bias

Beacon students at the sit-in. (Photo by Jeremy Weine)

Students at Beacon High School in Hell’s Kitchen held a sit-in Monday to protest racist acts in the school and the administration’s lack of an appropriate response.

The sit-in and teach-in at the school, at 522 W. 44 St., took place in the building’s hallways. Students and student unions, under the coalition Beacon United Unions (BUU), organized the event and said that the school has enabled racist acts by students and teachers, which had witnesses and were not investigated.

Hundreds of students walked out of the school two weeks earlier to protest what they said were racial biases in the admissions process.

The actions took place as a result of a Dec. 10 incident, students said, during which a female senior belittled minority students for getting into college through affirmative action, with the alleged assistance of guidance counselors.

But other students said it was not an isolated incident at the school.

Before the sit-in, some pupils, who didn’t give their names, spoke of discrimination faced at Beacon High School. One student said she has faced biases as a Latina, and didn’t realize it for some time because it had become normalized.

“When I was a freshman in Beacon last year I was constantly told that I should straighten my hair because my hair was either too messy or too big,” she said. “We came to this school for a good education, not to be discriminated against.”

Another student claimed a pupil told them that they were only at Beacon because of “the diversity quota,” adding language that “Mexicans were rapists, criminals,” parroting a line from Donald Trump’s presidential campaign announcement speech in 2015.

Junior Adrian Perez commented, “It is time that we start to challenge the administration and question the things that happen in this building.”

The sit-in included discussions of discriminations faced daily by people of color, issues that minority students face in the school, and a list of demands.

Beacon students holding a sit-in on Monday. (Photo by Jeremy Weine)

The demands included a public apology from Beacon for allowing racism to fester; investigation of college counselors alleged to be involved in the incident last week and whether biases have impacted their job performance; investigation of previous discriminatory acts and of newly reported ones within 48 hours, and notifying students about any investigations; workshops on bias and Culturally Responsive Education; efforts to make the staff more diverse; participants in the sit-in not facing any repercussions; and monthly meetings between BUU, the administration and the PTA to ensure the school is safe for all students.

The school’s principal, Ruth Lacey, communicated Monday with students, parents and the PTA, according to the NYC Department of Education, and she also met Tuesday with students and staff as part of planned ongoing dialogue on making the school welcoming and supportive for everyone.

Beacon will hold a student assembly by grade level this week, created by students and administration, DOE said, and there will be regular meetings between students, administration and the PTA going forward.

DOE also said it is committed to supporting Beacon with education on implicit bias, restorative justice and cultural responsiveness. It also added that normal attendance policies were in effect and students not in class will be marked absent.

“Students and staff at Beacon deserve a safe, supportive and inclusive school,” said a DOE spokesperson, “and Principal Lacey has clearly communicated to students, staff, and families that she takes these concerns seriously. While we investigate allegations about an incident last week, we will support the school community’s efforts to foster a welcoming learning environment for everyone.”

Gabe Herman