3 Lake Oswego students give boy note with racial slur, district issues response

Photo of Christiaan Bedford from his mother, Jennifer Cook

LAKE OSWEGO, Ore. – A mother is calling for more action after some students at Lake Oswego Junior High gave her son a note with a racial slur last week.

The Lake Oswego School District confirmed a “racial incident” at the middle school last Friday. School administrators said the students who gave Christiaan Bradford the note faced consequences for their actions, however the boy's mother feels not enough was done.

“A one-day suspension is completely inadequate for a hate crime,” Jennifer Cook said in a Facebook post.

She tells KATU News that three kids put a note with a racial slur on her 13-year-old son.

"It was a pink little post-it note, and in all capitals, it spelled out the N-word and dog on it," Cook said.

The school’s principal, Sara Deboy, penned a response to the incident on the school’s blog. In it, she talks about how educators are working on an open dialogue with students about the power that their words hold.

She said she also has spoken to groups and one-on-one with some students who have experienced those slurs first-hand.

The blog reads, in part:

It is important that we begin to teach children that offense language is often also oppressive language, and by using it, we continue the practice of prejudice. I have found that when these words are used, the students have a hard time explaining their intent – they may claim it was meant as a joke, they did not connect the word to the meaning, etc. I believe them. That is why it is on all of us as the adults in their lives to help them understand how we cannot allow these words to be part of jokes or allow them to be thrown around as if they had no meaning. These words have power. (Read the full blog post)

In a response to the blog post, Cook said she felt the school was “sympathetic to the offenders” and that Christiaan is not being supported.

“He told me that he hears that word a minimum of 5 times a day. Can you imagine? That's your reality and even when you tell the adults, who are supposed to protect you, they side with your abusers,” Cook said.

This is not the first time that Lake Oswego School District has responded to racist messages in its schools. Last March, hate speech was found scrawled on a bathroom wall at Lake Oswego High School. High school staff also removed an anti-Semitic poster back in 2016 after it was placed in the cafeteria.

Cook said she feels it is indicative of a larger problem in the district.

"If he were to stand up for himself and lash out at these kids who are constantly verbally assaulting him ... as a brown child he would get a maximum punishment and these kids were just getting let off," Cook said. "My son deserves to feel safe, my son deserves to be in a school where he is not being harassed or he is not being discriminated against."

The district released the following statement on Tuesday:

A racial incident occurred at Lake Oswego Junior High School on Friday.

School administrators responded immediately with consequences for the student, but more importantly administrators are working with the involved students using restorative justice strategies.

Our work as educators is to bring together the best resources, facilitate deep conversations with our students and parents, and engage everyone on the journey to wholeness. It is a long process to unlearn deep prejudices. It is a long process to change minds. But, through our work with peer support groups, adult interventions, and courageous conversations, we are addressing this issue head on.

Our board’s recently adopted strategic plan ensures that diversity is celebrated, equity is created, and inclusion happens in every classroom and program in our district. The National Equity Project, along with Coaching Peace, Anthony Muhammad and other organizations have been working with our staff for the last four years. Typically, our schools have an equity team made up of students and parents who continue the dialog in order to lead our diversity, equity and inclusions initiatives.

LOSD does not tolerate hate speech, bullying, harassment, or any other type of behavior that makes students and parents feel unwelcome in our schools. We actively root out and address inappropriate actions and behaviors that don’t provide for safe and welcoming learning environments.

This work requires the entire community and we invite our fellow Lake Oswegans to continue this conversation with us.

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