- Associated Press - Saturday, December 15, 2018

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A Nebraska high school’s students and staff have formed focus groups in an effort to reduce racial tension and other conflicts.

Lincoln Southeast High School principal Brent Toalson said he plans to use restorative justice methods to help students resolve disputes and try to change the school’s culture.

Tensions heightened last spring when the student newspaper ran stories about President Donald Trump’s first year in office, including ones on the immigration debate, the Lincoln Journal Star reported . The restorative justice approach was spearheaded by a conversation between Toalson and Southeast High senior Deia Lasu.

Lasu wrote Toalson a letter after he quoted Coretta Scott King during a morning announcement, highlighting the late activist’s call for a “colorblind” society.

“The colorblind ideal won’t work for everyone,” Lasu said. “It won’t work for me.”

She told her principal in a letter she saw being colorblind as a form of privilege - an act of disregarding other races and cultures, not accepting them.

Toalson was impressed that she wanted to change things. They formed a collaborative relationship, bringing other students to the table, held focus groups with students and staff on race and ultimately created a peer mediation group.

“I thought peer mediation could empower kids, make the kids who came to me feel like they were part of the solution,” Toalson said. “What began as a conversation with a couple of students around race … led to the formation of a group that really has a much broader goal of changing (school) climate by resolving issues that arise, some that may be racial in nature.”

In the past decade, Southeast’s demographics have changed significantly. The percent of students of color has nearly doubled, from less than 14 percent to 25 percent.

Melissa Ortiz, a member of the peer mediation group, said things are starting to change at Southeast already.

“With what we’re doing now, we’ll send a message to all students that their voice does matter,” said Ortiz, who also is a co-leader of the school’s Latino Club. “They are validated. They will be heard.”

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com


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