WEST DES MOINES, Iowa -- Valley High School held its fifth forum this year on racism and acceptance tonight. The meetings began after a fight broke out in February.
School leaders say a post on social media sparked the fight. A student who had joined the school from Missouri took a photo of herself with the confederate flag in the background. The posting of that photo is what caused the school fight, according to the school's principal.
As part of these ongoing discussions, the students are discussing books such as "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria" and "School Culture Rewired" as well as "The Crossover". Everything is on the table for the ongoing discussions, including stereotypes, and the cultures and subcultures that exist at Valley High and in society.
Tonight Principal Tim Miller talked about how important values are and how our values are often learned. Miller says embracing kindness and respect can start to shift behaviors and culture. Miller says the goal is to improve the acceptance of all of the differences at Valley, and the folks we spoke with say these conversations are making an impact.
"It`s opening a discussion that hasn`t necessarily been said before and people are doing it with caring hearts, with open attitudes, and so it`s in a very safe environment where we can be authentic," said West Des Moines School Board Member Melinda Dunnwald.
"The incident that happened...I think opened a lot of people's eyes in West Des Moines that racism is very alive and well. I mean, I have African-American children and they experience it on a regular basis. Sometimes, it`s very subtle, and I think that sometimes the larger community isn`t always aware that it is prevalent and it is there. And sometimes I don`t think it`s conscious, but I think this really opens up the dialogue and let`s people have a real conversation," said parent Courtney Greene.
"It`s a big issue with the whole racism, but the fact that it`s kind of this precedent that we`re setting as a school and we`re just gonna try to tackle it and I`m very hopeful and optimistic that we can," said Junior Student Rachel Greene.
"We`re a big school. There`s no doubt about it. You bring 2000 people together and you know another 200 staff members. You`ve got a small town here, a small city, and there`s differing cultures and in an effort to bring us together, we`ve got to have some guiding principles," said Principal Tim Miller.
Miller says one of those principles is to treat each other with respect, acceptance, and kindness. The students say these discussions show that the administration takes them seriously, takes their issues seriously, and it means that their voices are actually being heard.