More than 150 students from Mount Hebron High School in Howard County walked out of classes Tuesday to protest a video released last week on social media depicting a white student calling blacks an inferior race.
Shouting "Stop the silence! Start a conversation!" the students, along with several community members, assembled for more than an hour at the entrance to the school parking lot.
School officials have said the 30-second video, which surfaced last week on social media, shows a white Mount Hebron High senior. They have not identified the student, who in the video disparages the Black Lives Matter movement and says, "Who the [expletive] cares about some black man who dies? … They're an inferior race, OK? Does anybody really care?"
The video of a Mount Hebron High School senior's rant against African-Americans has ignited a debate among Howard County students, with some saying it sheds light on racism at the school and others calling it a one-off, drunken mistake.
At Tuesday's demonstration, speakers called for the student to be held accountable. Several teenagers said the video had caused a deep hurt in the school community; others said it was indicative of underlying racism at Mount Hebron and other schools.
School system spokesman John White said administrators are meeting with the student who appears in the video and his parents this week, and officials are investigating whether others may have been involved. He said that although the video was not made on school grounds, the school system's student code of conduct allows disciplinary actions to be taken against off-campus behavior deemed disruptive to a school.
Although students planned and organized the Tuesday event, Mount Hebron Principal Andrew Cockley allowed the walkout and excused the students from class to take part in the walkout, White said.
"Students came up with their own agenda that they wanted to discuss and be heard about," White said. "It was an organized, peaceful demonstration."
White also said that school system officials supported Cockley's decision.
"The principal is the leader of the school and he made some decisions that were in the best interest of the students," White said. "We wanted to support the principal and support the students as well, rather than penalize them for wanting to be heard."
In a letter to parents last week, Howard County School Superintendent Renee Foose encouraged them not to allow the video to be shared, saying: "It is hateful. No Howard County public school student should engage in this type of conduct, nor do they need to be exposed to it."
The student has since posted an apology on social media.
The video has prompted a debate among county students, some of whom call it a wake-up call about racism in schools.
"Sometimes as a school, we forget that problems like this do exist and they're still going on," Dominique McPherson, 16, a black student in her junior year at Mount Hebron said Sunday. "I think the video was a wake-up call in a way."
Others said they believed it was an isolated incident.
"I haven't felt any racial tension at the school in my four years there," Derrick Alexander, 17 and a senior at Mount Hebron who is also black, said Sunday. "I feel like this isn't a fair portrayal of my school or [the student in the video]."
In an email to parents yesterday, Howard County Superintendent Renee Foose wrote that she was "deeply saddened" by a video of a Mount Hebron High School student making racist remarks about African-Americans and the Black Lives Matter movement.
During the walkout, students used a megaphone to speak out about past experiences at Mount Hebron which they described as racist as well as the hurt caused by the remarks made in the video. A group of community members stood across the street cheering their support.
Zakariya Kmir, a senior at Mount Hebron and president of the Howard County Alpha Achievers, said the school could ease racial tensions by embracing three ideas: requiring ethnic and cultural awareness classes; ensuring diversity in the student government; and denouncing hate speech.
"The next step is collaboration between school administrators and students," Kmir said.
White agreed, saying action needs to be taken at Mount Hebron and in the broader community.
"We started thinking the next day after the video surfaced, how can we take productive steps at Mount Hebron, but also partner with groups countywide to address issues of race and cultural relations?" he said. "It's a totally diverse school, and no student should feel threatened or excluded."