WEST DES MOINES, Iowa -- After a racially motivated fight in 2015, Valley High School commissioned Iowa State University to study racial issues in their halls.
The results are in.
“Institutionalized and individual racism exist at Valley.” Those are words taken from the ISU audit of Valley High School.
The numbers alone show a stark divide between white students and minorities.
According to the study, African-American students are five times more likely to be suspended than their white peers, eight times as likely to be labeled “at risk” than “gifted” and Hispanic students are three times as likely to attend the alternative high school at Walnut Creek.
Superintendent Lisa Remy says the numbers are just a part of it.
“To hear students say they feel uncomfortable in classes, that there have been racial remarks in classes and hallways in our buildings, that’s what really hit home,” said Remy.
Students say it's become part of everyday life.
“I’ve just been so used to it in my 12 years in West Des Moines schools. It’s very quiet, it’s not spoken about too often” said Senior Rachel Greene.
The study says even in AP classes minority students experienced feelings of “isolation, tokenization, and discomfort”.
Feelings Greene says are her own.
“When you’re in the classroom you’re supposed to be in this safe space, this safe environment and when you aren’t feeling validated by your teachers and your superiors that becomes a problem where you won’t preform as well,” Greene said.
Students offer solutions, saying the curriculum could play a part.
“Teaching not just western civilization, not just white history, but also all the rich, cultural diversity in all the other races," said Senior Courtney Graham.
Greene suggests that mandatory attendance to racial forums already being held could be part of the answer.
“The people that need to be hearing these messages aren’t in attendance,” said Greene.
Graham agrees with the audit which found some of her white peers and staff feels uncomfortable discussing race.
“People don’t want to admit, ‘Maybe that’s my fault.’ ‘Maybe that thing I said or the way that I treated that person was racist.’ They don’t want to talk about that, they want Valley to be this picture-perfect school” said Graham.
The study also found something minority students say they've known all along; that a large group of white staff and students was “skeptical to the degree which systemic inequity exists at the school.”
“I feel like a lot of the families that are white don’t want to believe that this is the issue, which is why I’m so thankful that the audit came out because it’s a huge problem,” said Greene.
The audit also found the school was staffed disproportionately to its population.
While almost a quarter of the school's population identifies as a minority, only one out of 25 certified staff are of color.
Superintendent Remy says the district has tried to solve that problem.
We’ve actually had that as a goal for the last seven to eight years. We haven’t been real successful. There are few students of color in the teaching field and so we’re all vying for, all school districts and actually other employers vying for a small number of people” said Remy.
Remy plans to double down on hiring practices.
“It might not be that we have the person who looks like our students, but we hire people that have the right mindset of that equity and success for all students,” said Remy.
Remy says that while the findings hurt, they also have revealed what needs to be changed, and the district already has a roadmap in place.
By the end of October, Superintendent Remy plans to form a multicultural team of parents, students, and staff to decide how to address the findings.
In early 2017 she plans to put the recommendations from the team into practice while hiring a private company to help educate staff already teaching at Valley about racial issues.