School administrators tend to be a cautious lot. They typically don’t want to make waves and often shy away from controversial issues.
But after George Floyd was killed last month by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, large protests gripped the nation.
Hector Freytas, who just completed his first year as principal of Riverside-Brookfield High School, felt compelled to speak out. On June 2, after a weekend of mass protests and violence, Freytas posted some comments on his school Instagram and Twitter accounts.
“The death of George Floyd is unacceptable and everyone who participated should be held accountable,” Freytas wrote. “Let’s keep the conversations on race and equity front and center in all of society’s systems: schools, government, health care, labor, finance, housing, and more. Let’s stay away from violence and aggression as those acts take away from the real work that needs to occur – Equity for All.”
In his first year at RBHS, Freytas has been aggressive about promoting inclusion. He has made sure that minority students have a chance to speak, perform and be heard. RBHS currently has only one African-American teacher, and Freytas said that he would like to increase diversity and minority representation on the faculty.
Freytas said that it was important for him to speak out.
“Listening to the students has brought some new knowledge to me, and what the students want is they want us leaders — teachers, admin, parents — to hear them out and see what’s happening,” Freytas told the Landmark. “They want for us to know that we are listening to the students and taking their issues to heart. … Any decision I make as a leader is always hard, because I think of how it impacts everybody, and I want to make sure everyone’s included and everyone is heard to some degree.”
On June 8 in a monthly district newsletter District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis also called the killing of Floyd “unacceptable.”
“The recent events that have occurred both locally and nationally surrounding the unacceptable death of George Floyd have presented another opportunity for the RB community to come together,” Skinkis wrote. “We cannot lose sight of the injustices that are still occurring in society, and we need to provide avenues for support, communication, and change. Dr. Freytas and I will continue to work on increasing and improving communication channels with our students, families, and local leaders to ensure that we are providing consistent educational opportunities for every student at RB and the resources they need to be successful.”
The RBHS student newspaper, The Clarion, also responded to recent events by publishing online a lengthy special section, headlined “We can’t breathe,” about racism and the background of recent events. It can be found online at rbclarion.com/top-stories/2020/06/05/we-cant-breathe.
The section featured articles detailing the history of racism written by Clarion editors who graduated from RBHS last month and some articles written by students who will be attending RBHS next fall.
“It wouldn’t be right if we didn’t cover it, because it was something so huge that is happening, even though we weren’t in school,” said the outgoing Clarion co-editor in chief, Shalah Russell, a 2020 graduate. “So we decided, we got a Zoom call, that we would cover it, and our sponsor, Mark Helgeson, he said it was kind of like a gray area because although we’re technically not in school we still didn’t have the in-person graduation.”
Russell, who has also participated in protests recently said that it was cathartic to write about what has been happening.
“It was therapeutic for most of us,” Russell said. “We were able to put our thoughts down on paper, on the computer and typing it out.”