Students disciplined for ‘racist language and symbols’ at West Seattle High School

West Seattle High School principal Brian Vance has disclosed that students have been disciplined for use of “racist language and symbols.” Multiple recipients forwarded us this letter he sent to families last night:

Recently, there has been a couple of incidents where students have used racist language and symbols with and against each other. Religious bigotry, racism, and discrimination go against every core belief held by the school and district and will not be tolerated. As West Seattle High School’s principal, I take the responsibility to create a safe, welcoming, and inclusive learning environment very seriously.

While these individual incidents were addressed immediately, I want to share with the broader school community what has been done and my expectations moving forward.


Disciplinary procedures were followed for students who used the racial slurs or shared inappropriate imagery. We worked with Central Office and handled discipline in accordance with the student code of conduct.


In these situations, it is important to address the harm caused and promote healing. In our Advisory periods, we showed a video message from me denouncing these acts and putting out a call to come together as a community. In addition, students viewed a student produced video on micro-aggressions and students participated in restorative circles to share experiences and mend relationships.

Ongoing Training:

As Principal, I am committed to ensuring that every student at WSHS thrives, and as educators, we must continue our own professional growth and be intentional in our racial equity work. In response to these incidents, WSHS staff are taking the following actions.

All staff participated in staff circles to discuss issues on race and bias.

All staff will participate in continued training on bias and interrupting hate speech this coming Wednesday, October 30.

I will work in partnership with the SPS Department of Racial Equity and Advancement to create and implement a professional growth plan for WSHS staff for the rest of the school year. We will also use guidance from the Department of Racial Equity and Advancement and work with our school’s Race and Equity team to develop student-focused resources and ongoing training for our young people to understand hate speech, stereotypes, and biases.

We will be implementing a school wide positive response that will allow us to set clear expectations and a collective response in bringing our community together. More details on this will come out once we finalize the program.

I also want to remind our broader community that high school students are learning and developing during these formative years.

I encourage you to use this situation as an opportunity to talk with your student about the perpetuation of hate, racism, and anti-Semitism and the consequences – now and into the future – that may result. Teaching Tolerance has a parent guide for addressing these topics with young people.

As a community, we will not tolerate bullying, discrimination, or harassment. I continue to be proud to be part of a community that is supportive and welcoming and ask for your partnership in making sure WSHS students always embody these values. Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

We requested followup details through Seattle Public Schools spokesperson Tim Robinson. He said this refers to “verbal” incidents: “Three completely separate incidents since the start of school.” We also requested the video mentioned in the principal’s letter; our request was turned down; Robinson said, “He prefers not to disseminate it further, but he points out that it is largely a reiteration of the points in the letter. It was about a minute long.” The Code of Conduct to which the letter refers has a disciplinary matrix you can see here.

45 Replies to "Students disciplined for 'racist language and symbols' at West Seattle High School"

  • Yma October 29, 2019 (1:03 pm)

    Thank you , Principal Vance
    we have a blended family 

  • Mk October 29, 2019 (1:56 pm)

    I like what the principal had to say. Thanks. I am beyond tired of hearing the  N word yelled on school grounds, Safeway, etc.

    • West Seattle neighbor October 29, 2019 (5:21 pm)

      Nobody said what specifically was said and what specific imagery was used. It would be helpful to people to know what minority was discriminated against?

    • Darryll October 30, 2019 (10:40 am)

      Agreed. The N word should go away entirely. I don’t listen to or buy music that uses it.

  • Daisy G October 29, 2019 (2:49 pm)

    As a former WSHS family of 8 years, I am not surprised to read this at all. Over the past 4 years there has been a significant increase in racial jokes and slurs often followed by “ha ha, just kidding” or “I didn’t mean anything by it” or use of the “n” word in everyday conversation  among (white) friend groups at WSHS.  Not sure when/why these kids decided that any of this was OK to say or think. But it has definitely increased as an acceptable social norm among kids at WSHS. As a parent of kids of color, it was heartbreaking to hear that these things were coming out of their friends’ mouths. So, the question is,  where is this coming from, and how do we change it? I applaud Principal Vance for bringing this out into the open and taking action. But parents, this starts at home and it’s your responsibility to dig deep on this with your kids.

  • WSHS Student October 29, 2019 (3:29 pm)

    As being a student at West Seattle High, I personally didn’t think that the video Mr.Vance made was helpful with solving this issue. The video of him addressing the school is on YouTube. 

    • WSB October 29, 2019 (4:17 pm)

      Link? I searched before writing this and have looked again.

    • Olafur October 29, 2019 (5:17 pm)

      WSHS Student, can you share what you believe would be helpful in solving this issue?  Often, we older adults implement actions that make the most sense to our own peer groups, because that’s the perspective we have.  From your perspective, what do you feel would be impactful for young adults in high schools?

      • Yma October 29, 2019 (7:24 pm)

        Thank you @Olafur 

  • Seattle's pot not melting. Yet? October 29, 2019 (3:40 pm)

    Seattle’s mostly white people so racism is alive and flourishing here. Diversity is what would solve this issue once and for all. 

    • WW Resident October 30, 2019 (4:50 am)

         The idea that only white people say stupid racist things is absolutely ridiculous and a false narrative.  As a former WSHS student, I saw/witnessed all too often people of other races call white people derogatory names all the time. I saw/witnessed people of other races call each other derogatory names. If you think that diversity itself will solve all woes, then you have lived in a bubble and/or are not paying attention.      I have seen all races be or say racist things. I have seen a Chilean who when asked if he was Mexican, state in a very racist reply (that I cannot repeat here or this reply won’t get published) that he was not Mexican. I have witnessed an entire warehouse of Vietnamese tell the owner of the company that if the owner hired the Cambodian who applied for a job, the entire crew would quit. I have witnessed Asians saying some of the most racist things about black people and visa versa. Latino comedians make jokes about not calling a Cuban a Puerto Rican and visa versa or there will be hell to pay. And on and on it goes.   If there is going to be a discussion on racism then that’s great, but have an actual honest discussion on it rather than some false narrative driven agenda. To simply think that putting a bunch of people with different cultures, races, religions, etc. together will solve everything is a rather shallow and short sided “solution”, because all people have their prejudices through beliefs, attitudes, and values. This can be seen from other countries where people share the same race, but different religions and there is conflict or share different races, but the same religion and there’s conflict, or people who share the same race, but different cultures and there is conflict, etc. etc.    Stop with the identity politics, because now it’s starting to bleed over from just white people being the “problem” to now colleges like Evergreen State College with their identity politics  suggesting that Asians are possibly now part of the problem. Probably, because Asians per capita do better in America than all other races on average, including white people. And now unfair higher standards are put on Asians getting into certain colleges because apparently there are too many Asians getting into college. These “solutions” are not solutions at all, but merely knee jerk reactions. 

      • T Rex October 30, 2019 (1:27 pm)

        Great post! You said the simple truth. Sometimes the members of the human race do not like other members of the human race. That is because we are human and imperfect. 

      • Ursela October 30, 2019 (2:33 pm)

        Thank you for your thoughtful and more comprehensive comments, WW Resident! If people look around they will see that it is normal to hang around and sit with people of the same identity ie. race, religion, politics etc. Humans need to be taught to value others’ experiences therby expanding their world views.  No one is immune to prejudice, it resides in all races, but we can learn.  I disagree that these young offenders should be expelled, though I realize how deeply offensive it is to hear of their racial intolerence. Otherwise,  they will grow into adults who will teach hatred and intolerence, as these young people have been taught.  Instead, force them to have monitored and directed face to face  on going conversations with the victims, where all learn to speak.I appreciated the comments about Michael Bennett and the restriction of the n word in relation to Emmett Till and believe that students can learn from history.

        • WW Resident October 30, 2019 (3:06 pm)

          Thank you Ursela. And I want to say something else real quick in case there are some that think I’m somehow against diversity. I’m in an interracial marriage with an immigrant which means my marriage is definitely multi cultural as well as interracial. We also have a wonderful, smart, beautiful bi racial child who is my world.Also what you said reminds me of a sociology class I took in college. The professor told us to take a look at the cafeteria when we had a chance and report back at the end of the week to say what we saw. The professor’s question was more of an exercise, because what we saw was though there were exceptions often times there were as the professor called it, “voluntary segregation” in which people trended to flock to those like themselves. This tendency pretty much happened across the board. So with diversity needs to come understanding with ALL PEOPLE. 

    • Andy October 31, 2019 (8:16 am)

      Seattle’s mostly white people so racism is alive and flourishing here. “

      This is the most racist thing about this whole story. When you have a chance, please reflect for a bit on your complicity in the problem, in order to perhaps find a more helpful approach. 

  • Admiral Mom October 29, 2019 (4:13 pm)

    These allegations are highly concerning, glad they are being adressed. If anyone has actual information or has witnessed female students being asked to take off their hijab please come forward . This is shocking and unacceptable.

  • WSMom October 29, 2019 (4:28 pm)

    I’m surprised it has taken this long for a letter to come home. Didn’t this happen last week? Why is the families just now being informed? From what I understand these recent incidents are not isolated. I hear that it is very common. I’m glad the students are finally being disciplined.

  • Deterrent?.... October 29, 2019 (5:04 pm)

    Sounds like the offending students need a lengthy suspension and a zero tolerance policy toward expulsion when they return. There is no place for this anywhere, much less a high school. If you make it clear to their families that the students will be expelled, I would imagine that something will change. Its absolutely disgusting that this is going on and the students who did this really need to learn some accountability. 

    • DH October 29, 2019 (6:47 pm)

      I completely disagree! Zero tolerance polices do nothing but oust kids out of the schools system. I support restorative practices and other accountability measures to bring them back in and help the process and people heal. I’m not for writing off students because they make mistakes. Learning is a better accountability process than exclusion.  

      • Kmm October 29, 2019 (8:26 pm)

        These racist need to be expelled!

      • Mistakes?? October 29, 2019 (8:53 pm)

        Is racist behavior a mistake or a personality trait? What do you think is remediation for this? It’s hatred and we turn a blind eye to it with instructional videos and the like. Something needs to change. 

    • KBear October 29, 2019 (9:35 pm)

      The problem with zero tolerance policies is that they prevent adults from teaching kids how to use good judgment in dealing with a situation caused by bad judgment. 

  • C October 29, 2019 (5:48 pm)

    According to my child, a student there, some students, white students, are given a pass to use the N-word from their African-American friends.
    Some serious teaching needs to happen at home and at school about how wrong this is.

    • WSMom October 29, 2019 (6:10 pm)

      My daughter who used to go there says that is true, the white kids always say the N word at WSHS. I guess school they think it’s okay? Not okay.

  • Yma October 29, 2019 (7:13 pm)

    @WSHS Student – can you give ideas? How do we , as parents, help? How do you, as a student, help your community? 

  • Jeannie October 29, 2019 (7:19 pm)

    In the 1980s, my partner played football on a mixed-race team in high school. He said both Black and White players used the n-word freely,  but, in retrospect, it feels uncomfortable at the very least.NFL player (and activist) Michael Bennett gave an eye-opening talk at Town Hall about a year ago.  He said he doesn’t use the n-word because it was likely the last word that lynch victims like Emmett Till and James Byrd, Jr. heard before they died horrible deaths. A harrowing thought, and that’s one of many reasons I won’t use that word. Perhaps Bennett’s explanation could be shared with high-school students.

  • Melissa Westbrook October 29, 2019 (8:56 pm)

    Just to note, that Hazel Wolf K-8 has also been experiencing issues with bullying and racial slurs.  Students at the school actually had a protest rally last Friday because they felt the administration was NOT doing enough to stop it.  (Speaks highly of most of the student body at that school.)It seems like Principal Vance is doing more than the HW principal.  Seems like the district – where it seems these issues are quite important – is being a little slow here as well.

  • Seattlite October 29, 2019 (10:42 pm)

    Three separate incidences occurred since the start of the school year.  Did I miss if the alleged  name-calling was done by the same students or different students? I recall reading that the “N” word and other derogatory words and expletives are used over and over again in rap music that some students listen to. Could that be part of the problem? Parents are the role models for their kids as well as the disciplinarians; the home teachers of respect, morals, ethics, right from wrong. Perhaps peer pressure is part of it. I remember my dad telling me that if your gut tells you that something being said or being done is not morally right to just walk away from those who choose to do wrong. Of course, I had an understanding of the Ten Commandments which don’t seem to be used as moral guidelines as often as they should be today.

    • TSurly October 30, 2019 (9:20 am)

      Right, because religious tenents work so well to induce moral behavior. Examples: the Christian right throwing unwavering support behind the most morally bankrupt president this country has ever seen, or the Catholic church’s ongoing sexual abuse of children.

      • WW Resident October 30, 2019 (3:19 pm)

        As an atheist who dabbles in Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism philosophy (thanks to my wife who practices Mahayana Buddhism) , but has many religious texts from the Bible, to the Dhammapada, to the Tao Te Ching, to the Q’uran, because I find the psychology of it fascinating, I can find examples like yours (and even worse) in other religions, including Buddhism. Since you said religious tenets and not specifically Christian tenets, I thought I would point this out. 

  • WestSideMom October 30, 2019 (12:41 am)

    Racism is alive and well at WSHS as a mom of biracial children I personally filed complaints against staff at WSHS which were found guilty of racial discrimination. What kind of example are they setting? Especially when staff get a slap on the wrist and still work there. None of it is acceptable. Now my child does running start so they don’t have to deal with the stupidity at the school. They are much happier since the college they attend is very diverse in comparison to WSHS. 

    • WSResident October 30, 2019 (7:28 am)

      I think the lack of diversity at WSHS is part of the problem. Kids are not exposed to different cultures and neither are the teachers. When they redrew the lines of WSHS and made it less diverse it was not a good thing.

    • newnative October 30, 2019 (8:47 am)

      Another parent of a Running Start grad. My son couldn’t deal with the elitist attitudes at WSHS, the cliquishness, the bullying and the general dishonesty of the popular kids.  It was too distracting for him. 

  • D Del Rio October 30, 2019 (5:47 am)

    I went to Rainier Beach during the busing era of Seattle Public Schools. This is nothing compared to what I used to witness on a daily basis during my four years attending Rainier Beach, but I always thought when I grew up racism would be a thing of the past in the Seattle area. Looks like I was wrong. 

  • Kristina October 30, 2019 (7:27 am)

    I highly recommend “So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo, a local author who is a person of color. Parents can use some of her ideas to talk to kids; high school kids can use her ideas to help shift school culture. I’m glad WSHS is facing this head on, taking it seriously, bringing it to attention. Our community can surely do better. We can start at home, by tackling tough topics around race and sharing our values with our kids; we can start by listening to people of color and amplifying their voices. I find Oluo’s book to be a valuable tool in doing that work.

  • Beth October 30, 2019 (8:09 am)

    Excellent letter! Thank you, Principal Vance.#hateisnotwelcomehere

  • LoveTrumpsHate October 30, 2019 (10:22 am)

    The comment about Michael Bennet and use of the “n” word, really underscores the power of the word to terrorize and subjugate. It also reminded me that these kids are around the same age as Emmett Till who was 14 when he was lynched. Imagine that for a moment, really imagine it. A 14 year-old-boy dying by himself at the hands of monsters who used that word over and over again. Principal Vance, I think it should be required of every single student in your school to write about Emmet Till and the civil rights movement  so that they understand the true context of the word. It’s not just a rap lyric. And even though we have leaders in this country who believe it’s ok to denigrate people for the color of their skin, remind them that in this community we try to be better. We all have to do better. 

  • Will October 30, 2019 (10:25 am)

    To those that want to blame the school consider this: While the school has policies regarding harassment, hate speech, etc, they are meaningless in the face of racists. All it does is attempt to deter people from acting on their proclivities, it doesn’t change the person. The school didn’t make racists. The school has not sanctioned the use of racist language and has policies in place to discourage it. That children use hate speech of any stripe is not the fault of the school.These beliefs often come from within the home and are learned as young children.  Later in life, such as high school or even middle school, harassment, bullying and isolation may drive kids into the waiting arms of various hate groups by providing acceptance for the kid and use those experiences to mold them.What we should be asking ourselves is how do we stop this at the root?  How do you prevent hatred of those who are different than you? As this is an age old problem that used to be handled with open warfare it’s no easy nut to crack.At the end of the day school is just where the bright light shines on the actors but it doesn’t create the actor.

    • newnative October 30, 2019 (11:29 am)

      I disagree. Children spend most of their waking hours at school, surrounded by their peers and adults who represent authority. When children are bullied, harassed, subjected to discrimination, they should be able to count on their teachers and school staff to support them. They represent the community they are in.    

  • Will October 30, 2019 (12:03 pm)

    So teachers are responsible for raising our children? They are the ones we hold responsible for instilling morals? Then what role do the parents play beyond room and board? Parents hold a role that is far more influential than teachers or other administrative staff. While children should be able to count of the school staff in the event of bullying and harassment they are still outsiders as far as family goes. Just tell a kid that their parents are wrong and see how the circle the wagons and that include HS age young adults.We try to make schools responsible for more and more child rearing duties but that’s just not the education systems job. Children a re a mirror of their community, yes, but ask yourself just who that community is made up of. The current socio-political atmosphere has made open racism, anti-semitism, sexism, homophobia and other ‘isms’ OK. While education can help counter that it’s not the cure.

    • newnative October 30, 2019 (2:45 pm)

      They aren’t responsible for raising our children but they are responsible for setting a good example and taking complaints seriously. That is what I said and that is what I meant. If education is compulsory, then schools need to be safe for children. 

      • Will October 31, 2019 (8:59 am)

        There is no indication that the teachers didn’t handle it appropriately. There is no indication that they did not set a good example or that they didn’t take complaints seriously.I guess the real question is what does safe mean? While the legal definition remains the same for schools what kids feel is worth reporting and when may change. What a kid in a Title I school would report may be different than what a kid in WSHS would report. The question is when when was it reported and what/when was the follow up. Just because the incidents show up here, in the comments, doesn’t mean that they were reported. What you said has wider ramifications that what you explicitly said. 

  • KaitWSHS2015 October 31, 2019 (10:36 am)

    Things at West Seattle high school really need to change. During my time there things like this would happen all the time and would often go unaddressed. Though the fact that this is being addressed it seems like maybe things have changed even if just a little bit.

  • WSHS Parent November 1, 2019 (5:55 pm)

    Thank you WSBLOG for reporting on this. I hate to say it, but I am not at all surprised. As the parent of a child of color at this school, Mr. Vance’s poor leadership on these issues has been apparent all throughout his tenure. My child was discriminated against by the actions of staff and students at this school and he did absolutely nothing – nothing. No one has ever been held accountable and my child has to show up each day and see those responsible, including the principal who again, did nothing. I have witnessed the marginalization of families of color here – over and over.  He simply does not care, and this letter is meaningless. His actions are what we need to look at.

  • WSHS Parent November 1, 2019 (6:36 pm)

    Melissa  – please don’t come in here to give Mr. Vance a pass – you are not a member of this WSHS community. I have seen you do this on your blog as well. Just because you had pleasant interactions with him over at privileged Roosevelt does not mean anything. He has been MIA on so many issues at another privileged school, WSHS. You do not know that he has been doing anything – and let me tell you, on issues of race and equity – he has no idea what to do.

Sorry, comment time is over.