Ralston HS addresses offensive image connected to school project

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RALSTON, Neb. (WOWT) -- The principal of Ralston High School has sent a strongly worded letter to students and staff about an offensive image that has been seen on social media.

A spokesman for the school district told WOWT 6 News what happened to provoke the letter.

About 250 freshmen traveled throughout the metro Tuesday for various service field trips. When they returned to school, they were assigned to create a project detailing what they did, what they learned, and so on. One small group of freshmen spent time volunteering at the Boys & Girls Club of Omaha.

While their project was being prepared, offensive language was used that reflected negative stereotypes of North Omaha. WOWT 6 News is told that an offensive graphic created had several bullet points. It was deleted after a few minutes but after someone in the group took a picture of it. The picture was later shared on social media. The offensive image was never presented as part of the group’s final project.

The district spokesman says except for the few students involved in the incident, the freshmen had a positive experience during the service field trips. A statement to WOWT 6 News read, “Immediately upon learning about the incident, Ralston High School staff intervened and are investigating. We take the situation seriously and will respond appropriately. We also want to learn from this, to better prepare our students to engage in diverse environments, both in and outside of Ralston Public Schools. We apologize for the very poor judgement of these students. This behavior will not be tolerated, and does not represent our district. Ralston Public Schools works every day to foster a welcoming, inclusive environment for all students. We will not waiver in that commitment to continuous improvement.”

Here is the statement issued to staff and students:

I have a very important message I need to share with all of you. We are so fortunate to have a school that brings together students and families from across the Omaha metro. We have built a school community with the potential to make an incredible impact through our cultural, social, and ethnic diversity that deserves to be celebrated. I am passionate about creating a safe and nurturing place for all students to learn, share, and achieve. The decisive majority of Wednesday’s 9th grade ‘Day of Service’ was incredible. Who can say, they invested an entire day with more than 250 students, totaling more than 1,250 hours of community service with eight diverse and unique nonprofits? Ralston High School can. Even with all that, the choices of one or some can hurt so many more.

You may be aware, a post shared on social media Thursday documented words that created anger, hurt, and mistrust for community members in North Omaha, members of the Boys and Girls Club of North Omaha, students within Ralston High School, and faculty our district. The post pictured a computer screen where students were working on a shared Google slideshow. The assignment was intended to let students reflect on the experience of giving time and energy to something bigger than one’s self. I hoped students would see, even if they cannot give financially to others, they can still contribute by volunteering.

I am saddened to say that the slide which was shared did not embrace those ideas expressed above. The post elicited racial bias, false information, and used stereotypes to describe an accomplished organization that was founded on the support for, and acceptance of all. We as a school community are offended by the language. It does not represent us as a community or our views as a district. The slide was never presented in class or shared with a teacher. But, as soon as staff became aware of the deeply hurtful language, we intervened immediately.

Our school and district administration are working quickly to address the concerns and disappointment created by this incident. We will hold the students involved, accountable. We want to learn from this and be proactive, to better engage with the greater Omaha community in the future. My hope is that, as we continue to address this incident, we will also find ways to build on our work centered around inclusion, cultural competence, and acceptance of everyone.

In conclusion, I encourage everyone to show compassion, care, support, and empathy for those who are affected and will continue to be affected by this. I also ask that you focus on ways that you can help create environments that we all may thrive in. A strong community doesn’t just happen. A community must be planted, nourished, and grown. Be Kind.

Mrs. Tvrdy
Principal Ralston High School