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Video del Citizen Times

Buncombe parents demand answers over anti-immigrant signs

Julie Ball

ASHEVILLE – Anger boiled over at Erwin High on Wednesday morning as parents and students demanded answers after anti-immigrant signs were placed outside a classroom.

The signs were part of a class assignment for students in a civics and economics class. They were placed in a hallway outside a classroom. One read «Illegals Go Home,» and another read «America is for Americans.»

Teacher Jesse Reeck wiped away tears as she said she was sorry for the signs.

«I want to apologize to everyone who has been hurt by my poor choice to post our class assignment in the hall,» she told those who gathered for the early morning meeting. «I am deeply sorry for the pain I have caused to students, parents and community members.»

Reeck said the final assignment «was a reflection of what we see today on the news in the presidential campaign and in the world around us.»

«I made a serious mistake in posting the assignment in the hall outside the background and the context and the safe environment that we have created inside our classroom,» she said.

But those in the audience demanded to know what consequences Reeck would face.

The signs have brought to the surface deeper issues at Erwin High, according to some of those who attended.

«We’re not going to let this go at all,» Joshua Ramirez, who graduated from Erwin High in 2014, said following the meeting. «We’re just all fed up, and this is a time for change, for our change.»

Ramirez said he was suspended in his senior year for speaking Spanish in a class.

Some parents at the meeting also said they were forced to wait for interpreters when trying to contact the school about their children.

One woman said she felt, «Because of my accent, I’m not listened to.»

Principal Jim Brown said the school has hired office personnel who speak Spanish and Russian to communicate with parents who do not speak English.

The school had planned for Wednesday’s meeting to last about 30 minutes before the start of class, but parents, students and community members refused to leave the auditorium until they had a chance to speak.

The meeting continued well past 9 a.m. The school brought in counselors to talk to students in the cafeteria following the meeting.

Former Erwin student Michelle Montero, who attended the meeting, said she was surprised to hear the signs had been placed in the hallway.

«It just made me super sad because I don’t know one teacher that would allow it, and I don’t know why it happened, but it did,» she said.

Montero said she sees Wednesday’s meeting as «a beginning.»

The meeting also drew Bianca Figueroa, of Hendersonville.

«There are so many racist people out there, and if you make it OK at a public school, you are going to make it OK everywhere,» Figueroa said. «So, honestly, what most of these people (attending the meeting) want is just to stop it here.»

Erwin has a diverse student population, with more than 25 countries represented in the school’s student body.

Reeck, who is biracial, said the «diversity and inclusiveness» at Erwin drew her to the school.

«I am thankful to be a part of such a beautifully diverse community,» she said.

About 30 signs from the homework assignment were placed on the walls outside the classroom for a few hours Monday.

Photos of four of the signs were posted on social media, and that’s how many found out about the issue.

Some students reacted Tuesday, gathering during lunch and chanting the word «Mexico.»

Brown said he wants to put together a focus group made up of some of those attending Wednesday’s meeting.

He also wants to set a long range plan that involves another meeting «where we could have a discussion with members of the community to report to them the progress that we’re making,» he said.

Buncombe County Schools board chair Ann Franklin said the school system is developing plans to address the issues, but she believes one thing that is needed is more training for staff members.

«I feel sure that’s something we will put in place,» she said.


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