DeKALB – DeKalb mom Michelle Collins said she came to speak at Tuesday’s DeKalb School District 428 Board of Education meeting, “to address a singular incident that happened in the lunchroom with a staff member that was entirely inappropriate, through both her commentary and actions, and affected a great number of students.”
The incident Collins spoke about occurred in Huntley Middle School’s lunchroom last Wednesday and was the subject of debate on social media. It also sparked parent concern and was followed by a student-led demonstration about body autonomy.
Students and parents said it was during the eighth grade lunch hour when a school employee allegedly told a group of middle-school girls that if they wear revealing clothes, it’s their fault if they’re mistreated. School officials, however, said there’s more to the story than what’s been shared on social media, and the lunchroom conversation was about what dress code is appropriate in what setting.
Students, however, said the conversation turned to the staff member, singling out people based on gender and what they were wearing.
[ DeKalb students demonstrate at Huntley Middle School amid dress code debate, district responds ]
When asked whether disciplinary action had been taken regarding the staff member in question Tuesday, Superintendent Minerva Garcia-Sanchez said that she “cannot disclose any information at this time,” but that “it will be obvious that something is happening.”
“All aspects, everything we do in the school district, is for our children and their education,” Garcia-Sanchez said. “We’re always going to do what’s best for the kids.”
Huntley Middle School Principal Amonaquenette Parker also spoke at the board meeting and addressed the school board.
“This past week serves as a marker for Huntley Middle School,” she said. “While engaging in meaningful conversations with parents, students and staff, we identified opportunities for growth and areas to learn. As we journey toward a socially just environment, we are listening to and acknowledging the shared experience of our J-Barbs. We will continue to work diligently to provide an inclusive learning environment to our students.”
Parker said the school plans to take the following steps: reconvene the district’s handbook committee and include students as representatives, provide increased opportunities for students to participate in councils and committees, and include opportunities for parents to weigh in.
Parker said the school also plans to reach out to DeKalb-based organizations Safe Passage, a local nonprofit that advocates for survivors of gender and sexual violence, among other resources. She said the school will work with Safe Passage staff to set up discussions surrounding “body safety, education and positivity.”
Collins, however, said that she was disappointed at the outcome of the school board meeting, reiterating her previous comments that the issue sparked by the lunchroom incident last week wasn’t about dress code, but about the language used by a Huntley staff member that she and other students felt was reinforcing negative narratives, specifically surrounding female students.
“They talked more about the dress code, when the issue has never been about the dress code, ever,” she said. “I feel like the school board didn’t really listen and they did not address the issue. It’s always been about an isolated incident, in which a staff member bullied and shamed kids publicly and normalized sexual assault.”
Collins agreed with Parker that bringing Safe Passage into the middle school, possibly for an all-school assembly, would “be a great idea.”
“A victim’s advocate would be the best person to talk to the kids about what was said and done,” Collins said.
After the meeting, School Board President Sarah Moses said that including students’ voices in policy-making “is just one way for the school district to be focused on equity.”