Students protest in halls of Sandalwood High School after racially insensitive posts

Students hold walk-out protest at Sandalwood High School. (Copyright 2021 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A student demonstration at Duval County’s largest school.

Students at Sandalwood High School staged a walkout Wednesday after a series of online posts sparked outrage.

It all started Tuesday with a post on Microsoft Teams from Sandalwood High School Principal Dr. Saryn Hatcher. It was to promote the school district’s mental health awareness campaign this month.

The campaign, “You Matter Month” caused many students to be outraged thinking that it was a replacement for Black Lives Matter and by extension, Black History Month which is also in February. DCPS spokesperson Tracy Pierce said the district recently pivoted the branding of the campaign from its original message “#TakeOffTheMask,” after it caused some confusion and inadvertent mixed-messaging, first reported by the Florida Times-Union.

Then students allegedly posted racially insensitive comments on that Microsoft Teams thread and the principal eventually shut down the entire thread.

A student demonstration at Duval County’s largest school.

News4Jax spoke to the organizer and one of the demonstrators and they explained what caused them to walk out of class.

“So, that is when I was like, ‘okay, that’s the last straw. We’re not being heard,’” said student and organizer Jara Enoch. “Our ideas and our concerns aren’t being expressed because currently we’re being silenced. So, I decided to make that post, I said peacefully, everybody can walk out at 12:30. And we’re going to protest it in the cafeteria.”

“We just felt like for our school, to have such a low level of respect for us,” student Jodi Price said. “We felt the need to wear all black and to go around the hallways chanting ‘Black Lives Matter’ because we feel like our voices are not getting heard enough because of what’s going on nowadays, you know, a lot of violence and stuff.”

Both students said they have meetings scheduled with school administrators on Thursday.

According to district spokesperson Tracy Pierce, there was no physical violence and no injuries were reported. There was some banging on tables and standing on tables, but there was no damage to school property, Pierce said.

There were extra police officers called to the school toward the end of the roughly two-hour demonstration, but they didn’t engage at all, they were only there to make sure no one entered or left the campus without authorization and to make sure the campus was secure, the district said.

Sandalwood High School Senior Vice President Kimberly Williams, 17, said even though the protest didn’t go exactly as it was planned, there are still issues at the school that need to be addressed.

“Being at Sandalwood for all four years, I witnessed peer racism, racist remarks all in my classes, and me personally I really didn’t know how to attack it and I feel like I didn’t have a strong enough voice to say something, really no one did,” Williams said. “I just feel like we need to have an assembly so we can talk about it and make it known...instead of pushing it down and ignoring it.”

Williams and other members of the student government plan to meet with school administrators to try and figure out the best way to move forward and have productive discussions.

About the Authors:

McLean is a reporter with WJXT, covering education and breaking news. He is a frequent contributor to the News4Jax I-team and Trust Index coverage.

Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.