The Santa Clarita chapter of the NAACP organized a news conference Tuesday at the local high school district’s office to call for better policies and training on hate speech after a now-viral video showed students using a racial slur in Valencia High School’s parking lot.
The video shows two female students repeatedly singing a song by a rapper with the lyrics, “I don’t like (racial epithet),” which appeared to have been posted by one of the students.
It was then shared on various social media platforms, with a March 10 tweet that included the video garnering close to 2 million views by the start of Tuesday’s news conference at the offices of the William S. Hart Union High School District.
Valerie Bradford, president of the local chapter, said in a phone interview Tuesday she felt Hart district officials were taking the situation seriously, and that her conversations with Superintendent Mike Kuhlman led to the noontime gathering in front of mostly parents and district staff.
“I do feel like they’re taking it seriously because I have talked with (Kuhlman),” Bradford said. “I have gone to Valencia (High), I had a meeting at Valencia (Monday). And I know that they immediately started to research (the situation), they called everyone in to talk with them, to talk with the parents.”
Bradford also said the point of the news conference was not just about addressing the incident, but also it was about changing the attitudes and behaviors that fostered the incident in the first place and preventing future incidents like it.
“That’s not to say that we won’t need to continue to push them, because it’s about this incident, but it’s also about them having something in place that will prevent this from happening again, or that students will know, ‘If I do this, there are going to be consequences,’” Bradford said. “And I don’t feel like there’s anything in place right now that says that, and so students feel free to say and do whatever they want. And so the board, I say the district, not the board, but the district, needs to implement policies, if there’s none in place. They need to implement policies that address this.”
Kuhlman was invited by the NAACP to be one of the speakers — a group that also included Julius Harper, a Black pastor from Santa Clarita Christian Fellowship, and four Black female Valencia High students who shared their experiences with racism on the campus and how it affected them, among several other community members who spoke.
“The language in these posts is unacceptable,” Kuhlman said in a prepared statement he read to the gathering. “The casual manner in which these terms are thrown around is unacceptable. The Hart district will not condone this type of hate speech, and we have taken proactive steps to ensure that it is our intention to promote an equitable, safe and inclusive environment for all of our students.”
When asked how the students would be held accountable and how the district was sending a message to the community with its response, Kuhlman noted laws and district policy prevented him from sharing any specific actions taken.
“Well, I think a message would be if you’re seeing students who are remaining on the campus, you know, after students have been involved with something that makes them feel unsafe, I think that would suggest that we are not taking it seriously,” he said.
Four members of Valencia’s Black Student Union spoke to their experiences with racially motivated microaggressions, slurs and how these experiences impacted them.
For Antonia Esi, president of the BSU, who started attending Valencia High last year as a junior, her move to the Santa Clarita Valley from a more diverse area has been a frustrating one, she said.
“I’m just a teenager. I come to school every day to learn, not to fight for my civil rights,” Esi said. “So, all the Black students that were hurt by this incident, I want to say that we see you, we feel you and we hear you. I feel your pain personally. But we cannot let this incident define us.”
In terms of defining its rules, Hart district officials cited Policy 5145.9 in terms of its rules regarding “hate-motivated behavior.”
The policy, which was last reviewed Sept. 14, 2022, notes the district does not tolerate such behavior, but does not offer specific repercussions.
“As necessary, the district shall provide counseling, guidance and support to students who are victims of hate-motivated behavior and to students who exhibit such behavior,” according to the district’s policy manual. “When appropriate, students who engage in hate-motivated behavior shall be disciplined.”
Esi said teachers and staff could use more training as well, as she mentioned experiences where district employees didn’t seem able, comfortable or willing to address racist incidents brought to their attention, a sentiment that was shared by some of the parents who spoke up at Tuesday’s news conference as well.
Kuhlman said the district had policies that addressed behavior like what was shown on the video, but added Tuesday, “I believe that it probably is time for us to go back and look at that language to make sure that it actually addresses it as specifically as it needs to.”
Bradford said she also planned to address the governing board with her concerns during the district’s next meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday.