Bolles students start online petition, demand resignations after stories of racism

More and more people are speaking out about their experience at elite Jacksonville private schools, even after most of the social media pages were taken down. News4Jax Reporter Marilyn Parker spoke with former students of these schools.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Students at The Bolles School have created an online petition demanding resignations of staff and faculty after allegations of racism at the school were shared on social media.

Earlier this week, News4Jax reported that students and alumni of color were posting on Instagram about their experience with racism at three elite private schools in the Jacksonville area, including The Bolles School.

The anonymous stories were posted on Instagram accounts that now appear to have been removed. The accounts were “Black at Bolles”, “Black at BishopKenny” and “Black at Episcopal.”

“Unfortunately, the @blackatbolles Instagram account has been taken down,” the petition states. “We don’t yet know if this is permanent. However, we still have all of our posts, and will add them here. For now please continue to SHARE AND SIGN this petition. At this time, this is our only active account and the site of all official @BlackAtBolles communications.”

Out of the stories shared on accounts, students created demands for change at The Bolles School. The petition, which is trying to get to 500 signatures and had nearly 350 signatures as of Saturday night, asks alumni, parents and others to not make any donations until sweeping changes are made at the school.

The 30 demands include the termination of certain teachers and that they are replaced with Black faculty members, prohibiting the display of the Confederate flag and the implementation of a zero-tolerance policy for all forms of racism.

Students also demand that “traditional African-American cultural hairstyles including, but not limited to, braids, dreadlocs, and twists are not to be prohibited for all Black students, regardless of gender.”

News4Jax on Saturday spoke with two former Bolles students, who said the ended up leaving the school because of their experiences. One of them told News4Jax she wanted to put a face to her experience, though she understands why some people want to stay anonymous.

“Seeing people write about it, it’s good, but then it’s just like you see these people experience these things, you know what they are going through and you haven’t done anything to help them. It takes students to actually speak up about these things,” said Natalia Bermudez, Class of 2017.

Moderators for the account Black at Bolles told News4Jax earlier this week they had received more than 250 responses from black students, alumni, faculty and other students of color who say they were victims of racism while attending the school.

The posts are anonymous, so News4Jax can’t independently verify the comments or who is behind the post. Moderators say it’s the only way people feel comfortable sharing their stories.

On Wednesday, the Black at Bolles page posted a video showing a former student using the n-word. Staff at Bolles confirmed to News4Jax the student attended Bolles for one year and they had not seen the video until Wednesday.

The board and president of The Bolles School said they have been reading posts on the Black at Bolles Instagram account and can see they need “to do better, to be better and to make change.”

In a letter to the community, the school said it plans to hire more people of color and are planning workshops for faculty, staff and students.

The Instagram accounts and calls for change are part of a nationwide trend of students sharing their experiences with racism at school in the wake national protest following of the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed by police officers in Minnesota.

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A Florida girl and North Carolina A&T SU grad who thrives in breaking news.