Vern L. Howard, the chairman of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Colorado Holiday Commission, speaking at a Nov. 15, 2023, press conference outside of West Middle School. Credit: Tayler Shaw

Officials with the NAACP and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Colorado Holiday Commission raised concerns about student safety following the spread of a video showing a Cherry Creek middle school student expressing hatred against Black people. 

In the video, shared with Colorado Community Media, a child used a racial slur and said Black people should “not be alive right now.” The child said that he hates the color of their skin. 

According to the Rocky Mountain NAACP, the video is of a West Middle School student and was recorded in September.

The Cherry Creek School District responded on Nov. 15, the same day as the press conference. The district said that it was first made aware of the racist video in September and that it was created outside of a school setting by the student and shared in a group text. 

“The language in the video is hate-filled and we took swift action to address this unacceptable behavior,” the school district said in a statement. “Administration and law enforcement acted immediately to investigate the situation.”

The district added: “Students found to be responsible faced significant discipline and their parents were responsive to the severity of the situation. Due to the privacy rights of students, we cannot discuss specifics of discipline.”

Portia Prescott, the president of the Rocky Mountain NAACP, said that she has received comments from concerned parents about the video since it first surfaced about a month ago expressing fear for students’ safety. 

The Rocky Mountain NAACP State Conference said it had been informed of Black students being threatened and considered the matter concerning enough to warrant an emergency press conference. 

Portia Prescott, the president of the Rocky Mountain NAACP, speaking at a Nov. 15, 2023, press conference outside of West Middle School. Credit: Tayler Shaw

“We are late, obviously, two months later, but unfortunately, that’s how viral works,” Prescott said while standing outside of West Middle School. “It got to a bunch of kids.” 

Prescott said a clip of the student was reshared online and eventually shared with children who showed it to their parents. 

According to the school district, a letter was sent to West Middle School families on Sept. 29 from Mónica García, the school principal. 

In that letter, García said the school “dealt with some incidents of racist speech at our school and in our community,” calling it unacceptable. The principal included a resource for families to talk with children about discriminatory behavior and hate-motivated language. 

A press conference by the Rocky Mountain NAACP and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Colorado Holiday Commission was held at West Middle School Nov. 15, 2023. Credit: Tayler Shaw

Although the school district took action, Prescott said school leaders should have addressed it more publicly and shared information on a school website with resources for students and families. 

Vern L. Howard, the chairman of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Colorado Holiday Commission, said parents have expressed concern that the district did not handle the situation properly. He said the issue was serious enough to warrant involvement beyond the middle school.

“There should have been a district-wide email that went out to parents letting them know that this threat or this rhetoric existed and then how they handled it,” Howard said. 

Howard said some parents who have voiced concerns did not feel comfortable speaking at the press conference because they do not feel safe. 

Prescott said the NAACP is shouldering a lot of complaints from parents because they feel like the school district is not listening.

“We need to talk about, ‘What is public safety for parents?’” she said.

She added that she does not want to blame anyone and that she views the video as a cry for help. 

“It’s not a parent issue, but it is all of our issues,” she said. 

Prescott and Howard said they want to work with the community and the school district to protect students and make sure everyone feels safe. 

“That’s why we’re here today,” Prescott said. “We’re here to come up with new solutions, to help the schools.”

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