Ohio high school students disciplined over racist water fountain signs

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The signs taped above a pair of water fountains in a Cincinnati-area high school hallway were reminiscent of life under Jim Crow laws: “Whites only,” the left one said; “Blacks only” read the one to its right.

A picture of the signs circulated on social media among students at Colerain High School earlier this month, igniting outrage among parents and triggering an investigation by the school district. One mother called the act a hate crime.

Now, the students responsible for the “tasteless and hurtful act have been issued significant disciplinary actions,” according to school officials.

“We want to make sure our staff, students, families and community understands where we stand on racial intolerance, discrimination, racism and hatred,” a statement released Monday from Northwest Local School District said. “We take this matter very seriously. This type of behavior is not and will not be condoned or tolerated.”

Colerain High School, which has an enrollment of 1,730 students, is about 30 percent Black and about 50 percent White, according to U.S. News & World Report.

The incident is the latest in a string of racist acts occurring in schools across the country. A day after the Ohio district announced the punishments, school officials in Florida’s Palm City announced they are investigating a photograph that circulated on social media of students holding up letters spelling out the n-word.

Last month, a student at a Chicago-area high school wrote a racist comment about picking cotton on a “prom-posal” sign. In the past few months, student-athletes in several states, including Georgia, Washington, Vermont, Minnesota and California, have reported hearing competitors or spectators yelling racial slurs at them during or after games.

The investigation into the water fountain signs at the Ohio high school found that the pieces of paper were up for about 30 seconds on May 5, the district said in a statement. In addition to saying “Whites only” and “Blacks only,” each sign had a drawing of a frowning face.

“The students involved in the incident posted the signs, took photos and removed the notes before posting the photos online,” officials said.

The signs refer to segregation under Jim Crow laws. Some of the more notorious depictions of segregation include those of separate water fountains and bathrooms for Black and White people. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made segregation illegal, though many states in the South were slow to comply.

A parent posted a screenshot of the social media post on her Facebook page last week, causing an uproar in the comments. It was shared about 150 times. Others, in interviews with WXIX, called the incident at their children’s school “offensive” and “a hate crime.”

The school district did not say how many students were disciplined or the punishments they received. Officials said that any student found to have shared the image or posted it online would also be subject to disciplinary action.

The incident, they added, does not “reflect the values and the culture we’ve worked so hard to cultivate in all of our schools across the district.”

“As a District we remain committed to teaching love, inclusivity and compassion,” the statement adds.

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