Officials at a Catholic high school in Chicago say they have completed an investigation into allegations that a group of students took part in what some Latino students viewed as a racist protest during a recent dance.
The incident in question occurred during Saturday’s homecoming dance at Marist High School. Multiple students said that when a DJ played a Spanish-language version of Billy Ray Cyrus’ song “Achy Breaky Heart,” a group of students kneeled in apparent protest, while others booed the song.
Videos of the incident were posted to social media, with allegations levied that the booing and kneeling were racist in nature. The allegations prompted an investigation by the school.
The investigation found that students were seen kneeling during multiple songs, with the DJ company MG Sound telling officials that it is a common practice for students to either kneel or sit down during songs as a way of “requesting that the DJs change the song being played.”
The investigation also found that students were seen dancing to other Spanish-language songs that the company included in its playlist.
Chaperones corroborated those findings, saying that the DJ would cut off a song and play another if students indicated their displeasure with it.
“Although these are the facts, we recognize there are still students at Marist who viewed this video or were at the Homecoming dance that were hurt by these actions,” officials said in the letter. “Marist is a family, and when one of us hurts, we all hurt. The fact that there were students who left the dance hurt by what they witnessed showed us that there is work to do.”
Elizabeth Pacheco, who filmed a video of the incident, said that as student kneeled they also made negative comments about Mexicans.
“I feel betrayed by the peers that I’ve grown up with here,” she said.
Nearly two dozen students walked out of their lunch period to protest the incident, with several saying it isn’t the first time they’ve felt attacked based on their race.
“I’ve been here for four years, and we are constantly getting mocked, and I’m tired,” student Jaelynn Crawford said.
The school's letter did not directly address the allegations that racist remarks were made by some students during the incident.
The school says it has taken steps in recent months to promote inclusion, including the hiring of a Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the formation of the “We Are One” program, which is dedicated to helping faculty and staff gather to discuss cultural topics.
Officials say they will take other steps in the wake of the controversy.
“It is our responsibility to keep our students safe and to foster an environment where all our students are respected, and feel respected,” officials said. “We will continue to make decisions with this in the forefront of our minds.”