Education

Portland school leaders apologize for ‘not alerting’ entire district of violent, racist attack at middle school

By Rob Manning (OPB)
Feb. 18, 2023 6:40 p.m.

Portland Public Schools Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero and school board members issued a statement late Friday afternoon, several weeks after racist assault at West Sylvan Middle School.

Portland Public Schools district headquarters, Portland, Ore., Dec. 15, 2018.

FILE: Portland Public Schools district headquarters, Portland, Ore., Dec. 15, 2018.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero and all eight members of the school board of Oregon’s largest school district sent a message late Friday afternoon to “wholeheartedly apologize” for a racist attack involving students at West Sylvan Middle School. The assault was first reported on Feb. 9 by multiple media outlets, including The Oregonian/Oregonlive, and television stations, such as KOIN and KATU.

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Those reports describe a similar attack, in which a Black student who had been excused to use the water fountain was confronted by two other students. Raheem Alexzander, the father of the boy who was victimized, told news agencies that two students tied his son’s hands behind his back and told him they were going to do a “George Floyd.”

Alexzander said the two boys forced his son onto the hallway floor and put a knee on his back, and were “going to wait 20 seconds.”

Alexzander told media outlets afterwards that he wasn’t satisfied with how the district and school responded to the incident, which occurred in mid-January. A message went out to West Sylvan families five days after the assault, according to KOIN’s reporting earlier this month.

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It said the students “responsible for the harm” were being disciplined and that the school would be incorporating anti-racist teaching in response.

But no message was shared with the broader Portland Public Schools community, as Alexzander had wanted. According to media reports, district officials told Alexzander that broader notice could interfere with investigations and possibly violate federal law governing student privacy.

Top leaders at PPS admitted in their message Friday night that the initial response was inadequate.

“We also apologize to the entire African American community for not alerting all students and families in Portland Public Schools of this hate and bias incident that was experienced by one of our PPS students,” the message said.

The district leaders pledged a “zero tolerance approach” to racist behavior.

“It is unacceptable anywhere in Portland Public Schools. Wherever racism rears its head in PPS, it will be dealt with swiftly and decisively. We do not, and will not, tolerate racism,” the districtwide letter said.

The district said it should have notified the entire school district of the incident.

“This incident deserved to be raised to our broader community. Doing so would have been consistent with our commitment to teaching, modeling, and living by antiracist values.”

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