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Parents asking SUHSD to discipline staff amidst Black baby doll controversy at Salinas High

SALINAS, Calif. (KION) Parents and students are expressing outrage over what they're calling racist acts and images being shared on social media. This is all stemming from an incident involving a black baby doll at Salinas High School. Parents say some photos show staff involved in the racist controversy.

The videos and Instagram posts began circulating over the weekend depicting Salinas High School students posing with a Black baby doll they reportedly named "Shaniqua." The account has since been deactivated, but the incident has left many residents shocked. Some of the posts were taken at a football jamboree held at Salinas High on Friday night, with parents and staff in attendance.

One parent reached out to us, saying a photo of her son with the doll was seen on TikTok. But she says her son was only at Salinas High for Regional Occupation Program classes when a girl approached him with the doll.

"She had told him that it would be helping her out as a project. So he just wanted to help her out. It broke my heart because seeing my kid that way, and for someone to take advantage of his innocence not knowing him and to post that without his consent," the parent told KION.

She says she's now concerned how the pictures could affect her son's future. Parents we spoke to say students shouldn't be the only ones held accountable.

"In some of the videos, there’s faculty and teachers taking pictures and videos with the doll," said Charles Sanders, whose son goes to North Salinas High School but was at the jamboree Friday night. "The teacher was holding the doll on the goal post. So it’s infuriating. It’s a lack of teaching, the parents aren’t doing their job, the teachers aren’t doing their job."

Parents we spoke to say teaching students to be racially sensitive starts at home, but they believe the school district should do more to teach students about the history behind their actions.

Students we spoke to, though, say they don't think the incident should reflect on the entire school.

"I mean what they did, what the doll is symbolizing is a little bit of racism but I don’t feel like as a whole school we’re racist. In general like I feel like we’re pretty good with that situation," a Salinas High football player told KION.

A statement from Salinas Union High School District Superintendent Dan Burns reads in part: "We are contracting with a third party investigator to review all of the aspects of racism, hate and discrimination. We will continue to provide the resources and support to ensure that those that initiated, instigated or actively contributed to this incident are held accountable."

Burns also says disciplinary action has been taken against the student who initiated the incident and started the Instagram account.

The district's statement goes on to say, "...Many students, some from other schools, were asked to pose with the doll and were not aware that a racist Instagram account was created and connected to the doll. Many were misinformed and told that it was part of a class project."

We reached out to the Salinas High principal but she was unavailable for comment. We did learn that a meeting with the principal and the NAACP was scheduled for Monday behind closed doors.

A statement from the NAACP Monterey County branch can be read here.

The entire statement from SUHSD can be read below.

It goes without saying, the images and videos taken by several students at Salinas High School, as well as many others from our District high schools, are not only appalling, but they are simply unacceptable.  Although the students involved have stated that anti-black racism was not their intent, the impact of their actions has further highlighted the need for District resources to be aligned to provide more learning opportunities to ensure that all students feel that school is a safe and inclusive place for their learning.  At the same time, it is a reminder that the work started over a year ago to emphasize the need to lift up our black students, teachers and parents has only just begun. 

I have provided ongoing support and guidance for our staff who are conducting ongoing investigations.  We are also contracting with a third party investigator to review all of the aspects of racism, hate and discrimination. We will continue to provide the resources and support to ensure that those that initiated, instigated or actively contributed to this incident are held accountable.  

I understand there is a desire for a swift resolution, but we are also going to look deeper into the root causes of this type of behavior so that change can be relevant and lasting.   Let’s also not forget that those who have been identified as being involved are children, many between the ages of 15-17.  That does not excuse their conduct, but is a reminder that beyond school punishments, they too need support and opportunities to learn and grow.  

The initial investigation resulted in student discipline administered to the student that initiated the incident, which included creating an Instagram account named after the doll.  Student disciplinary consequences for students in this incident will be administered in accordance with CA Ed Code.  The student that initiated this incident is not a cheerleader, member of any athletic team, nor a member of the ASB group.  However, members of those groups, which are considered extra-curricular, may lose extra-curricular privileges for their involvement in this incident beyond just taking a photo.  Additionally, there are students from multiple ethnic groups involved, and the entire football scrimmage is being reviewed for various levels of inappropriateness .  

I also want the community to know that many students, some from other schools, were asked to pose with the doll and were not aware that a racist Instagram account was created and connected to the doll. Many were misinformed and told that it was part of a class project.

As a community, we are surely appalled by this incident and our students must be our focus as we unpack the layers.  I have heard from almost 1,000 students and I feel the pain and trauma in their words.  Therefore, moving forward, we will create safe spaces on our campuses to embrace our students' voices and let them lead us to the change they seek and deserve.  

We, the SUHSD community, must do better.

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Lisa Principi

Lisa Principi is a reporter at KION News Channel 5/46.

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