, , , , ,

Planned event for Appleton East High School students of color called ‘racist’

The school is planning freshmen orientation for students of color; other area schools have similar events planned

Students walking in the hallway
Hans Pennink/AP Photo

A conservative Wisconsin law firm and some community members say a planned school year kickoff event for freshmen of color is racist.

Appleton East High School announced the meet and greet for freshman students six days ago on Facebook, prompting the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty to send a letter to the Appleton Area School District directing officials to take down the post.

“To the extent you still would like a freshman open house on August 15, you must make clear that all students—regardless of race—are welcome,” the letter states. “If, however, you do not remove the post or adjust the program by Monday, August 14, we will file a formal complaint with the Office of Civil Rights at the United States Department of Education. In our complaint, we will seek a formal investigation of this event.”

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Superintendent Greg Hartjes said the meet and greet at East High School will happen on Aug. 15. A similar event was held last week at West High School and one is planned Thursday evening at North High School.

Hartjes said the event at East was promoted on Facebook, which is how it was spotted by people who took exception to it. He said he received one call from an East parent last week and two calls from parents with children who don’t attend East.

This week, he said he has not gotten any calls.

Hartjes said all three of the high schools are holding five to six events in August and September for all incoming freshmen. This particular event is so students of color can meet cultural advisors. He said all students are welcome.

“We have a lot of data that shows the transition to ninth grade is so critical and we know that it’s a year that really can dictate how successful they are in high school,” Hartjes said. “We really are surprised by the negative response this is getting — primarily on Facebook.”

Cory Brewer, an attorney with WILL, said however well-intentioned the event might be, it is still racism.

“If the district proceeds with having an event for only students of certain races, that is race discrimination and it is illegal and unconstitutional,” Bewer said. “We disagree that starting freshman students off in separate groups based on race is a good way to make them feel inclusive and might actually do the opposite.”

The situation has drawn hundreds of comments on social media, with mixed reactions.

Appleton East High School is about 65 percent white, 14 percent Hispanic, 13 percent Asian and 4 percent Black, according to the 2021-22 Department of Public Instruction school report card.