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June 26, 2022

West County students protest racist promposal

Hundreds of students of West County High School skipped their tutorial on Thursday April 21 to protest racism in school. The sit-in, organized by the Anti Racist Student Committee encouraged students to wear shirts which had phrases expressing solidarity and messages of support as well as stances against racism.
“No room for racism”… “Not too fond of racist people” and “Please reeducate yourself out of your racial ignorance” could be read across students’ t-shirts.
The peaceful protest originated from an April 8 promposal which became viral on social media. A West County student was asked to prom with the message “If I was black I’d be picking cotton but I’m white so I’m picking you! Prom?” written in a notebook. A photo of the promposal went viral and students became outraged and asked staff to reprimand the students.
However, during the sit-in, students had conversations and made speeches which emphasized that reprimands were not enough. Students asked for open conversations and emphasis on changing a racist culture they say they have experienced at school. Most of the students who spoke were people of color and each one of them expressed their concerns as well as shared what they experienced as students.
At the West Sonoma County High School District April 13 board meeting, the incident was brought up by Principal Shauna Ferdinandson. “On Friday, we became aware that there was a promposal and the content of it was extremely distorted. It has caused an uproar throughout the campus and the community. And rightfully so,” she said during the meeting.
“We are being quite open in our approach to getting the work finished. Some of that work is going to take a lot of listening, and then some really solid actions. It has been frustrating for people who want to know exactly what the consequences are for the students that were involved. There were three students in particular who were involved in this, and because of privacy obviously we cannot share any of that information. I know that people want to know, and I understand why they want to know, but we are taking this very seriously,” Ferdinandson said.
During the board meeting she read a paragraph of a letter written and directed to students and staff.  “We are committed to doing better for our community by forging a culture of inclusion where students feel supported and seen. We hear you, we see you and we’re ready to listen. As a member of the administrative team, I’m incredibly disturbed and disappointed in the choices made by the students involved in posting this hateful message and blatant disregard for students of color. In no way is posting racist comments funny, this action by students is distasteful, and serves as an example of hate on the most basic level. We are not taking this as a minor incident, we are taking this very, very seriously,” she read.
Ferdinandson then mentioned that a student assembly would be held Tuesday April 19 where students could speak on the situation. Students were able to share their exprienes and feelins at the assembly. It was to be followed by a student forum on the 26.
“Students will be sharing their experiences here, and everything from racial insensitivity, [to] issues with homophobia, and that sort of thing. We’re going to have therapists here and students will have a chance to share and then we’ll be doing follow up with students who share things and also are seeking support. And on the 26 of September, we have a club called the Anti Racist Student committee. I will be attending the meeting to listen to how and what are the next steps after that,” she said.
Concerns about leadership
KatieAnn Nguyen, who is part of the club and editor-in-chief of the West County World news site wrote on April 17 about her concerns regarding Interim School Superintendent Eric Hoppes.
In a forwarded email received by SoCoNews from a community member, it was learned on April 19 that Hoppes had resigned from his position.
“I am writing on behalf of the Board of Education to share an update regarding district leadership and our efforts to secure the next Superintendent for our school district. The Board is in the final steps of the superintendent recruitment.  We are planning to announce the name of the new superintendent and approve their employment contract at the May 4, 2022 Board Meeting,” the email written by Board President Patrick Nagle said.
“Last week, Interim Superintendent Eric Hoppes met with the Director of Human Resources Mia Del Prete and me to let us know that he will be returning to his retirement, effective April 15, 2022. We appreciate his support over the past couple of months. Principal Shauna Ferdinandson and Ms. Del Prete will serve in interim leadership positions during this time. Ms. Ferdinandson will address all matters that require an administrative credential and Ms. Del Prete will cover all the other matters. On behalf of the Board of Education, I am confident that Ms. Ferdinandson and Ms. Del Prete will serve our District during  this time with dedication, accountability and integrity,” it followed.
Nguyen wrote in an article she was disappointed in the apology Hoppes had made regarding the promposal.
The apology attributed to Hoppes read: “I hope that we will remember that we all make mistakes and we must learn from those mistakes. In this case a teenager and friends have made a terrible and hurtful mistake. As we work with them, I hope that there is true learning from this incident so that this never happens again. I was a kid once and had to ask others for forgiveness on occasion. As we go forward I hope we all can keep forgiveness in our hearts and in the forefront of our minds. We all need healing at times and we need each other to do that. We will be vigilant in our approach to speaking out against racism and teaching the virtues of tolerance.”
In an article written by Nguyen she said she sent him the email on Monday, April 11 and a day later he responded by asking for an in-person meeting, which concerned her.
“The first red flag was that out of all the students who had emailed him that exact same email template, he had only asked for a meeting with me,” her article read.
According to her article, Nguyen met with Hoppes, along with her classmate Dylan Peña Pérez on April 13.
In her article, Nguyen said Hoppes made uncomfortable questions about her ethnicity. Hoppes could not be reached for comment.  
Lastly Nguyen wrote she was made aware an apology was made at the board meeting on April 13.
“It wasn’t until at the board meeting later that day when a student called him out on his questions of citizenship to both Dylan and me that he realized his fault. In addition, Dylan said that Hoppes personally came up to him and apologized as well, saying that he’d like to meet us again to actually come up with solutions. His apology, from what I’ve heard, sounded forced and as if someone else had pushed him to apologize. It is simply disappointing to me that while he apologized, he wasn’t aware of his faults until someone called him out publicly for it,” Nguyen said.
At the sit-in on Thursday, students such as Nguyen spoke on how they felt regarding the current events and past racist incidents. Adanna Okiwelu publicly thanked her classmates for joining them in the demonstration. “Thank you so much, there are a lot of you. This feels like community, this feels like solidarity, this feels like support,” Okiwelu said.
“I know how it feels to have no one speaking out for me,” Okiwelu said about why she is an activist.
She asked for a more inclusive community and asked for everyone to allow themselves to be told when they are wrong, even if it is hard to hear.
Student Jerry Loya read a letter from a student who apologized for being unaware of what certain comments can do to other students.
Peña Pérez added it is important for future generations to continue the conversations in order for these incidents to no longer happen. Most of the students speaking were upperclassmen who will soon graduate and want the sentiment to not be forgotten once they leave.
Freshmen Alison McKeon, Jordyn Krichano and Maida Thompson attended the sit-in to show support and be allies to their POC friends and classmates. “I decided to join because I think racism is wrong and we need to take a stand against the school and how they deal with this,” Krichano said.
“I have a lot of friends in the POC [people of color] community and they were really affected by that post. And I feel like it’s had a very negative effect on our POC students and a lot of other allies and I think it’s an important cause to support,” McKeon said.