Student Says Racism is Commonplace at Pleasant Grove High School

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ELK GROVE -- Nooses thrown into classrooms and frequent use of the "N" word. One student says that's what's happening at Pleasant Grove High School in Elk Grove. She believes the district is not doing enough to stop it.

But the school district says it's taking immediate action to protect all of its students.

Video of a Pleasant Grove High School student picked up a lot of traction on social media over the Christmas break.

“I've seen it. It's hurtful, but it happens,” said Rachael Francois, a senior at Pleasant Grove.

It's happening far too often, according to Francois, who says the video is just the tip of the iceberg.

"There was all these things happening such as nooses hung around the trees. A white kid ran into the class rooms and said kill all the N-words,” Francois said.

Another incident happened after school hours, but in the campus parking lot, when a white student urinated on a black student's car.

One day while walking home, Fracois says it happened to her.

“A truck load of white guys rolled past, and screamed out the N word, hard 'R.' And I was pretty shocked like, 'what do I do?'” she said.

What she did was write a letter, along with two fellow African-American students, calling for action. They put the letters in all the faculty and staff's mailboxes. But she says faculty removed them.

“We got yelled at the first day by a different vice principal,” she said.

But the district says that letter has since been sent out to everyone.

“After being edited and improved by staff is my understanding,” said Christopher Hoffman, superintendent of the Elk Grove Unified School District.

Hoffman admits there are problems at Pleasant Grove, but says the district is taking them seriously.

“We will take appropriate disciplinary action when necessary, but the real goal is for these type of actions not to happen anymore,” Hoffman said.

The student in the video has been expelled.

And Hoffman says a unity group has been set up on the campus, along with site leaders to help end radical tensions.

Meanwhile, Francois isn't sure if that will be enough, adding faculty did little to change the school's culture before.

When asked if she felt safe at school, she said:

“No, not all the time, especially hearing that these incidents are occurring more and more, and seeing these kids still walking around, I don’t feel completely safe,” Francois said.

Since speaking out publicly, Francois says almost everyone has supported her. However, she says one teacher publicly shamed her in front of a class full of kids, calling her actions selfish.

The superintendent says he'll be looking into that.

The superintendent released the following statement:

Dear Elk Grove Unified Community Members,

Having grown up within Elk Grove Unified, I have never seen the ugliness of hate unfold before me like it has these past few weeks. The idea that hate, intolerance and narrow-mindedness remain pervasive confounds me. Having taught history to students who are now adults, the backwardness of hate and racism was never an ideal worthy of developing. Now as your Superintendent, I grapple and wrestle with the question of how we arrived at where we are today. We have good programs, systems and people in place to safeguard our students. However, it is clear that we urgently need to do better.

The appalling acts of hate found within our institution are unacceptable and I will not give up until we repair the hurt and restore a renewed sense of safety at every site. I often state that our purpose and function as a school district is to improve the academic and personal outcomes for each of our students. The only way I know how to do this is to improve our performance as the adults. Therefore, as an organization, we will pull ourselves up to protect our students, value their uniqueness, swiftly and appropriately respond to their issues and continue to provide the positive and supportive learning environments they need to learn.

My fellow colleagues and I have chosen to do the honorable work of educating children, but the education of our children is far reaching. Providing our students with an academic education is not enough; at the same time, we also must help them form their moral fiber. I believe we currently do work at a very high level and I recognize that we are not where we could and need to be. We must get better, including me. Having been shaped and molded by this community, I have faith in our ability to overcome these turbulent times. We have good staff, good parents and we live in a good community. We will persevere.

Know that we are currently working to improve a variety of internal programs and strategies designed to provide a supportive, caring and accepting learning environment across the entire Elk Grove Unified School District community. It is obvious, however, that it is clearly time to redouble our efforts and our pace. This means including and enlisting additional expertise to support our work to increase empathy, acceptance and open mindedness in everyone. My task and that of my entire team is to engage our parents, our students and our community partners and organizations to develop clear and comprehensive long-term strategies to address the issues we face.

Be assured that we have multiple strategies already in place to ensure the safety and well-being of our students. These strategies include a heightened sense of awareness by all staff, the addition of added safety and security staff, support groups and teams at our sites and at the district level plus the conducting of parents, staff and community meetings.

The challenging situation in which we find ourselves did not occur overnight and this problem cannot be solved overnight. However, we can and we will rise to the challenges we face. I fully commit to see this work through and I ask for each of you to join me in this most important endeavor.

Many of you have already reached out to me to offer your assistance, support and commitment in supporting district efforts to improve. Some of you, I have yet to meet in person and some of you I have worked with closely either in Elk Grove Unified or through other community organizations. I thank each of you for taking the time to reach out to me and I accept your offer.

While this message is being sent to the entire Elk Grove Unified School District Community, please know that we are also working diligently at specific schools where recent examples of hate and intolerance have occurred. Additional information about the immediate planned actions and opportunities for students and parents to share their thoughts and concerns directly with us will be communicated directly to the affected students and parents.

Thank you for taking the time to read this communication. I take great pride in the Elk Grove Unified School District and our entire community. I look forward to our work together as we strive to make Elk Grove Unified School District a place where all are welcome, encouraged and valued.

With a heavy but optimistic heart,

Christopher R. Hoffman

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