High school students in Ankeny say that for years they’ve heard racial slurs and cultural stereotypes from classmates followed by incident reports to the administration that didn’t go anywhere.
Layla Martinez, now a senior at Ankeny Centennial, told the Ankeny School Board during its Monday meeting that her harassment started when she moved to the district in seventh grade.
“Students constantly called me slurs. They would bully me. They told me that I wasn’t born here and that they would call ICE on me,” she said referring to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “As a seventh grader, I started to believe them. I would put posters on my locker regarding human rights. Students would write slurs on them.”
Martinez said it hasn’t gotten better at Centennial, and she hears the same slurs and disrespect.
“It’s the same thing every time. I fill out an incident report and I don’t hear about it again,” she said. “Obviously, as somebody who’s being bullied, you start to believe your teachers and administrators don’t care.”
Margueritte Job, a sophomore at Centennial, said the same thing. She started by telling the story of hearing a classmate saying the N-word in the hallway, over and over again. She used the word to illustrate the effect. Then she described going to the office to report it and being told the administration would talk to the student and witnesses and get back to her.
“They never got back to me. And the same kid, a few days later, he came to me and said, ‘You reported me but they didn’t do anything about it,’” she said.
“It hurt my feelings to know that the people that I’m supposed to look up to, that I’m supposed to go to when I need something did not do anything when I went to them for help because the authorities aren’t doing anything now.”
Results from the district’s diversity, equity, and inclusion audit were released in May. They showed only 25% of Black or African American students feel safe in the district. For Hispanic/Latino students the number was 36% and 32% of students of two or more races said they felt safe.
The only number lower than 25% (22%) was English Language Learners.
In interviews for the audit, students and teachers reported hearing slurs used against students, and students reported adult inaction to these incidents.
These results were shared with the school board at the May 16 meeting, but there is still only one member in the equity department at Ankeny Schools, chief diversity officer Ken Morris Jr. In April, an additional position was open but abruptly pulled.
The reason given was that the program was being audited and the district didn’t know if they needed a DEI specialist.
The students say the school needs to do something.
“My story starts when I was ten years old and I got called a wetback by a classmate. I didn’t know what that meant, but I felt the hatred in their voice,” said Raina Peterson, a senior at Centennial. “Later that day, I went home and asked my parents what wetback meant. And then in that moment, I knew I wasn’t welcome to a place I was born and raised in.”
Peterson said a classmate recently told her to go back to Mexico. She didn’t report it.
“Why should I? When my friends and fellow people of color reach out for help just to waste words to people who aren’t listening?” she said.
Two other students talked about cultural appropriation and general disrespect for other cultures, and they said it’s discouraging the district doesn’t teach students about other cultures.
“Coming to Centennial, I was disappointed about the lack of education for students like me and for the students around me,” said Faith Ruiz, a sophomore at Centennial.
At her old district, Ruiz said she was able to learn about women’s history, Hispanic history, Native American history, African-American history, and Asian history. There, students were given a more detailed view of different cultures and she said it made people more eager to learn.
The students asked the board members to listen to their stories and to take action. All acknowledged things aren’t going to change overnight, but they want the administration to take steps.
Martinez said her little brother is in seventh grade now and he’s already hearing the same slurs she did.
“We come to school to learn. We come to school to graduate. We come to school to make friends,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to worry about being called slurs while walking in the hallway. Administrators and teachers, you need to do better.”
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