A petition is calling for the expulsion of several students and their principal to be fired after they were reportedly only suspended for five days for posing in T-shirts to spell out a racial slur.
The shocking photo – of six grinning girls standing together to form the word ‘ni**er’ with their shirts -immediately sparked controversy after it went viral on social media on Friday.
Seniors at Desert Vista High School in Phoenix, Arizona, were wearing shirts to spell out ‘BEST*YOU’VE*EVER*SEEN*CLASS*OF*2016’ for a senior class yearbook photo, school district officials said.
But six girls went off on their own and used their shirts to spell out a racial slur, according to Tempe Union High School District spokeswoman Jill Hanks.
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The shocking photo – of six grinning girls standing together to form the word ‘ni**er’ with their shirts -immediately sparked controversy when it was posted on social media
The picture was apparently initially shared on Snapchat, where photos disappear after a certain length of time, but it was shared on other online platforms, including Twitter, where it quickly went viral and prompted calls to the principal.
Officials also called police to patrol the school as a precaution after offended students viewed the post online.
Student Alexis Barfield told ABC15: ‘Being an African-American, that’s just disrespectful in so many ways.’
‘Everybody was just talking about it in class, everybody thinks the girls are dumb for doing it,’ another added.
Hanks said the discipline process remains ongoing but the girls will be punished in accordance with district policies. She said officials are ‘absolutely outraged and disappointed’ and the students’ actions do not represent the student body.
Seniors at Desert Vista High School wore shirts to spell out ‘BEST*YOU’VE*EVER*SEEN*CLASS*OF*2016’ for a senior class yearbook photo
Desert Vista student Alexis Barfield said the picture was offensive to African-Americans ‘in so many ways’
And in a statement, the school district’s superintendent, Dr Kenneth Baca, said ‘appropriate’ disciplinary action will be taken.
‘The event that took place today at Desert Vista will not be tolerated. It is unacceptable for any racial slur to be used regardless of intent,’ Baca said.
‘We need to understand that words matter. I can assure you that appropriate disciplinary action will be taken.’
And in a letter to parents, Desert Vista principal, Dr Christine Barela said the students’ actions would not be tolerated although she did not specify their punishment.
Being an African-American, that’s just disrespectful in so many ways
Student Alexis Barfield
‘We want to let you know we share your outrage and disappointment over the actions of a handful of students today,’ she said in the letter.
‘We want to make it crystal clear those actions are unacceptable and will not be tolerated at Desert Vista.’
She added: ‘We can assure you we will discipline these students in accordance with district policy and our handbook.
‘While we don’t discuss individual discipline, we can tell you that in addition, the obvious need for sensitivity training will be addressed.’
However, a petition was launched calling for Barela to be fired and for the girls to be expelled after the girls were reportedly only suspended for one school week.
ABC15 reported that the students had only been suspended for five days – although the outlet said the school district had denied that the figure was accurate.
Grey’s Anatomy star Jesse Williams shared the controversial picture on his Twitter account
Sports anchor Tyler Baldwin also took to Twitter to blast the students from Desert Vista High School
The Change.org petition, which has already attracted nearly 30,000 signatures, criticizes school officials and says the punishment does not fit the crime.
‘The six students in question pulled ranks to spell out NI**ER on their own, smiling gleefully to pose for an instagram picture,’ it says.
‘This hurtful use of a racial slur is a complete disregard for the dignity of the black community in Arizona and across the nation and the punishment does not fit the total ignorance and cruelty of the crime.’
The punishment does not fit the total ignorance and cruelty of the crime
A letter to the school district’s associate superintendent, Dr Kevin Mendivil, attached to the petition, says: ‘The 5-day suspension the students may be receiving is not enough for the disgusting racial slur the administration seems to be treating as a harmless prank.
‘The students involved need to be expelled from the district and the principal fired for allowing a 5-day suspension to be even remotely considered as equal punishment for this hateful display of ignorance and racism.’
The picture has also attracted condemnation from celebrities, including Grey’s Anatomy star Jesse Williams.
The actor posted the picture on Twitter, with the caption: ‘Witness the pure joy that hate brings. #HurtingTrulyMakesThemHappy #PostRacial #DesertVista #LetsAllFeignSurprise’.
Sports anchor Tyler Baldwin posted the panoramic shot of the entire class, writing: ‘Yes! This is the “best you’ve ever been class of 2016” because it’s about to go downhill quickly #DesertVista’
Meanwhile, activists are planning to meet the district’s superintendent on Monday to discuss the issue.
Phoenix-area civil rights activist Rev. Jarrett Maupin said: ‘The racist images and discriminatory behavior created and exhibited by Desert Vista high school students is shocking, outrageous, and should give everyone cause for concern.’
A petition is now calling for the principal of Desert Vista High School (pictured) in Phoenix to be fired
Police showed up outside the school for extra safety after the post was viewed by offended students online