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Queensbury High School students stage walkout to protest racist bullying

QUEENSBURY — Dozens of students from Queensbury High School staged a walkout Thursday to protest years of racist bullying that they say school administrators have turned a blind eye to and has led to violence in recent days as victims seek to fend off the constant attacks.

Several students who participated in the walkout, which began around 11 a.m., said for years they have been victimized by their white peers and made to feel inferior because of their skin color, hairstyle and body weight.

The students said they have been called racist slurs, including the N-word, both online and in-person, and that school administrators, including Principal Damian Switzer, have done nothing to address the bullying despite multiple complaints from victims, witnesses, and parents.

“We just want change,” said Marcus Jackson, a junior who participated in the walkout. “We want to see them do something about it. I’m sick of seeing the same thing done over and over. It’s been redundant for years now.”

Jackson said he has been called the N-word multiple times since entering the high school three years ago, but no actions have been taken against those using the racial slur despite filing several reports with the school administration.

He said he’s worried about what kind of experience his little brother will have in a few years when he enters high school.

“I want my little brother to go here and just do school and not have to be worried about getting called the N-word or a monkey,” Jackson said.

In a letter addressed to parents released Thursday afternoon, school Superintendent Kyle Gannon said the district is “focused on ensuring all of our students and staff feel safe, valued and welcome in our community.”

“Our vision for Queensbury is a place where our community respects each other’s difference. Our faculty, staff and Board of Education are committed to creating and maintaining a positive and inclusive learning environment where all students feel safe, included, welcomed and accepted, and experience a sense of belonging and academic success,” Gannon wrote.

Gannon, in response to a request for comment from The Post-Star, said the district is still “working through things and talking to parents and students.”

He did not answer specific questions concerning whether any racist incidents have been reported to the district and whether students who participated in the walkout would be punished.

Switzer referred comment to Gannon.

The 40 students who participated — some carrying signs that read “Black Lives Matter” and “End Racism” — in the walkout said they have been threatened with suspension for walking out. Several said they received zeros on tests and quizzes for their actions, which they said were made necessary because of the district’s failure to act.

“We deserve to be in school, instead we’re out here protesting for our rights,” Jackson said. “I’m hoping we start to see that change soon.”

Several students who attended the rally said the school is on the brink, adding multiple fights have broken out in recent days as bullying victims try to ward off their harassers in the absence of action from school administrators.

Raeonna Murphy, a junior, said she was suspended earlier this week for punching a student who had been harassing her sister, which included the use of racial slurs and online harassment.

Murphy said she and her father reported the harassment directly to school administrators leading up to the altercation, but no action was taken.

“I punched her to let her know to stop calling my sister that,” she said. “That was my only way to end it because I feel the school can’t end it. We’re out here because we’re asking why does there need to be a fight for the school to realize it?”

Nakayla Hunter, Murphy’s sister, said the harassment has persisted since she was in middle school. Now a sophomore, she said the constant attacks have impacted her mental health and have her on constant edge.

“When I went to the middle school, I reported it multiple times when I was bullied and they didn’t do anything about it,” she said. “I had really bad depression and it was making me not want to go to school. Then I came to the high school. Last year was fine because of COVID and people weren’t in the school, but this year it has rehashed. It’s stressful for us to sit here and have to be worried about if we’ll be called this or that.”

Elsewhere, junior Kamani DeAngelo said she had a similar experience growing up.

She began being bullied when she entered the middle school, which she referred to as “Alcatraz,” the now shuttered prison off the coast of California, touted for years as an inescapable facility.

“We cannot walk through the halls without someone saying a racist slur to us,” she said. “Same thing with the middle school. I was bullied severely in the middle school to the point that I just didn’t want to go to school anymore because of the color of my skin and the way I wear my hair.”

DeAngelo said those that stand up for themselves are labeled as “aggressive” and punished for their actions, while those perpetuating the harassment go unpunished.

She said school administrators are not accountable, and she no longer wastes her time reporting to them.

“I don’t even go to them anymore when some calls me a n——- because they’re not going to do anything,” DeAngelo said.

“You know what I do? I go home, I tell my mom, I have a cry about it and I come back to school and act like everything is normal again. That’s all we can do. We can’t do anything else because they don’t do anything,” she added.

Chad Arnold is a reporter for The Post-Star covering the city of Glens Falls and the town and village of Lake George and Washington County government. Follow him on Twitter @ChadGArnold.

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