Blackface Photo Posted by Whitman Students Prompts Hate-Bias Investigation

Blackface Photo Posted by Whitman Students Prompts Hate-Bias Investigation

Bethesda school principal says 'acts of racism are unacceptable and will not be tolerated'

| Published:
Whitman

Photo via MCPS

County police have documented a picture posted to social media by two Walt Whitman High School students in blackface as a bias-related incident but do not plan to file criminal charges.

The students posted the photo and used the “N-word” on a “private social media account” but it was viewed by “many” in the school community, according to a message sent to families Monday afternoon by Robert Dodd, principal of the Bethesda school.

School administrators notified county police Monday morning, Dodd said.

No charges were filed and the school system is handling the situation, county police spokesman Capt. Tom Jordan said in an email.

It wasn’t clear when the posting was discovered and a school system spokesperson said the gender, race and grade of the students involved are not released to “protect student privacy.”

About 67% of Whitman’s 2,085 students are white and less than 5% are black, according to school system data.

“Our efforts to build students’ cultural proficiency at Walt Whitman High School are critical and ongoing,” Dodd wrote. “Unfortunately, this most recent incident is another indication that this work needs to be intensified so that all of our students feel safe and valued each day.”

The two students will receive “significant consequences,” Dodd wrote, but did not elaborate.

The school system’s student code of conduct outlines consequences that range from community service and peer mediation to expulsion.

Dodd said he has a meeting scheduled Tuesday with top school system officials to discuss racial intolerance, review data and develop a plan to address racism, inequities and cultural proficiency.

“Every student deserves to feel like Walt Whitman is their school,” Dodd said. “Racist incidents have a profoundly negative impact on how our students of color and their families perceive the safety, education and support our school has to offer. Again, I want to reiterate that acts of racism are unacceptable and will not be tolerated at Walt Whitman.”

In 2017, two Whitman students were reprimanded for calling one of their black classmates a racial slur and recently a Black History Month assembly was mocked by students online.

Speaking on behalf of the County Council, Council President Nancy Navarro said in a statement Tuesday afternoon, “it is unfortunate for us to be in 2019 and these types of incidents are still happening.”

She emphasized the county’s ongoing work to mold a “racial equity legislation” and a recent meeting held with students at Gaithersburg High School to discuss racism and cultural diversity.

“These actions are not representative of the high expectations we have for all of our students who attend MCPS, and we stand with the school administration in holding those accountable for these offensive actions,” Navarro said.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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