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Students stage a sit-in at OPRF high school

Oak Park and River Forest High School

About 100 students staged a sit-in Monday at Oak Park and River Forest High School with the goal of forcing administrators to reinstate two staff members who were suspended last week.

Anthony Clark, a special-education teacher, and Shoneice Reynolds, a secretary to the assistant principal, were put on paid administrative leave after students staged a walkout last week, on the anniversary of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin’s death, to protest racial inequity, according to Makesha Flournoy, an OPRF parent and activist.

Students and parents said Monday that Clark and Reynolds were suspended because the school alleges they played a role in organizing last week’s walkout.

A spokesman for Service Employee International Union Local 73, which represents Reynolds, confirmed that she’d been put on paid leave but couldn’t immediately provide additional details.

Sophomore Antoine Ford said he organized last week’s demonstration, as well as the sit-in Monday, and that neither Clark nor Reynolds were responsible for the student-led action.

“It’s just not true,” Ford said during a phone call Monday.

As of 12:30 p.m., about 100 students could be seen sitting on the floor just inside the school’s main entrance. The area they were sitting in was cordoned off by yellow tape.

About 100 students took part in a sit-in Monday at Oak Park and River Forest High School. | Provided by student Antoine Ford
About 100 students took part in a sit-in Monday at Oak Park and River Forest High School. | Provided by student Antoine Ford

Around 9:15 p.m., school officials told the eight or so remaining students that they needed to leave, and a handful of parents, supportive of their cause, drove them all home, Ford said.

Repeated attempts to reach Principal Nathanial Rouse and district Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams were unsuccessful.

Ford said he expected to speak with Pruitt-Adams on Tuesday. He also said that more protests were planned if Reynolds and Clark were not reinstated by Wednesday.

School spokeswoman Karin Sullivan issued the following statement Monday afternoon: “While the District cannot comment on personnel matters, we can affirm that we are reviewing the events of last week related to the student march and that we have placed on leave certain staff during the course of our review. The leave is not a decision of wrongdoing but rather a standard approach when the District is conducting a personnel review. As always, the District’s first priority is the safety of our students.”

Ford said shortly after noon that a group of student leaders was meeting with school administrators.

Clark, an outspoken activist for racial equality, was featured in the Starz documentary series “America to Me,” which examined race issues at the diverse high school.

Late last year, Clark, who is African-American, was targeted in racist graffiti found on a shed on campus. It was one of two instances of racist graffiti that took place in less than a week.

The documentary, which followed the lives of several OPRF students, was critically acclaimed and brought a spotlight on the school.

Jessica Stovall, an English teacher at Oak Park and River Forest, is taking a leave of absence after the documentary’s success to teach a course at Stanford based on the series and the issues it raised.

Contributing: Sam Charles

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‘America To Me’ shines light on racial disparities, via Oak Park-River Forest HS