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Students at Jones College Prep are staging a sit-in after the controversy

Students at Jones Prep College staged a sit-in on Monday following a controversy surrounding a student who came to school wearing a German military costume for Halloween and made gestures seen as anti-Semitic. The school’s lack of response to the incident sparked a protest where students called for a change in the school’s culture, saying the administration had failed to adequately address long-standing issues of discrimination.

Students filled the school’s lobby, while many others watched the proceedings from the second floor. Several students held signs to windows facing the street, some of which read, “You can’t hide the truth” and “Can you hear us now?”

The controversy prompted Chicago Public Schools on Friday to suspend Principal Joseph Powers from “primary duties, effective immediately, pending the outcome” of an investigation into his response to the student. In an email to her parents, Powers appeared to downplay the gestures, saying it “doesn’t appear to have been the purpose of the Halloween costume.”

In an email to CPS announcing Powers’ suspension, County CEO Pedro Martinez announced that Arthur Slater, a former CPS director “with extensive experience in the county, will serve as administrator in charge. effective immediately.”

The issue gained traction on social media last week after students shared messages condemning Powers’ response to the controversy. U the video was shared on Twitter and TikTok, the student is shown on stage during a school costume contest, where he appears in the goose step, a marching step strongly associated with Nazi soldiers, and gives the Nazi salute to a roaring crowd. The video has since garnered more than 450,000 views on Twitter.

In a photo attached to the post, Powers is standing next to a student in a suit.

The student behind the viral Twitter thread, Alex, whose father asked that only his son’s first name be used, said he heard about the costume from friends the day after Halloween and started asking classmates. From there, Alexey said he decided to take action.

“I decided to visit as many people who studied with him as possible,” said Alex. “People were sending me screenshots from Instagram, Snapchat, and I decided to go on Twitter because I thought I had to do something about it because we just can’t let this kind of behavior continue.”

Last week, the Chicago teachers union called for Powers to be fired, and students planned to walk out. In an email to students and parents, Martinez acknowledged plans for a student protest, saying security and CPS staff would be present and that students who did not return after walking out would be given a no-excuse pass.

The original plan was a prank, but one of the organizers, student Jahaim Johnson, said that after examining the school’s code of conduct, they felt that a sit-in would better protect students from the risk of a strike.

Although Powers was relieved of his duties, Johnson, a member of the school’s student-run Black Coalition, felt it was important to still take a stand. For this high school student, the reaction from the students was a long time coming, he said.

“It’s just a cumulative accumulation of every single incident of racial and ethnic misconduct and discrimination that has been reported to administrators and they’ve chosen to ignore our concerns,” Johnson said.

Gabriel Willis, a senior at Jones, said his brother, who graduated seven years ago, witnessed the same inaction toward racist behavior.

“She’s seen things like this over the years,” Willis said. “It’s been seven or eight years and it’s still happening. Something needs to be changed.”

Johnson said the student protest was planned just days in advance, largely organized by the Black Coalition and another student group, the Jewish Student Connection. He said it was an honor to see those efforts pay off and the big turnout.

“We pride ourselves on standing up for what we believe is right,” Johnson said. “It’s not easy to plan something of this magnitude in the short amount of time we’ve been allowed to do it, but we took care of it and showed up.”

Johnson said he doesn’t think the school was expecting that many students.

“I think they thought we were going to fail,” Johnson said. “I don’t think they expected this scale. But we were going to carry out our actions.”

Johnson said Slater initiated the conversation with the students. He praised the coverage, but said he left the conversation skeptical that the new leadership would lead to meaningful reform.

“It sounded good, but it’s nothing we haven’t heard before from an incompetent administration,” Johnson said.

For Alex, taking part in the sit-in felt “right”, especially after helping to raise awareness of the incident.

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“It’s great to see that everyone wants to come together to do the right thing,” Alex said. “Unity inspires.”

Alex and classmate Olivia Pinsoff-Berlowitz said the problem was bigger than anyone, including former principal Powers, stressing that the school’s culture fostered racism and other discrimination.

“There are still some employees, the administration, who should be held accountable,” Alex said. “There’s a lot of work to be done to make a difference, just to prevent racist behavior in general.”

Pinsoff-Berlowitz, Jones’ sophomore, echoed that sentiment.

“I can’t say it was just the main one,” Pinsoff-Berlowitz said. “I think in some ways the elite culture of selective enrollment can create some problems.”

Students said some teachers started conversations about the costume incident and encouraged students to share their perspective. However, Pinsoff-Berlowitz said there is still a fear that similar incidents could happen again, making student solidarity even more important.

“They unfortunately haven’t had that quick of a response in the past,” Pinsoff-Berlowitz said. “When it comes to anti-Semitism, it must be dealt with. There have been so many instances of racism in the past that have gone unnoticed. I think everyone wants to make it clear that we’re not going to let that happen again.”


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