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The Reality of Being a Minority in the Las Vegas School System: an Op-Ed by Stella Garner

In this guest article by Stella Garner, the newly graduated writer breaks down the realities and statistics behind societal oppression in the Las Vegas school system.

In 2019, 43 percent of the revenue brought in by the Las Vegas Strip came through gaming. Las Vegas thrives off the idea of chance: the roll of the dice, the thrill of the horse race, the electronic symphony of the slot machines. But for many students attending Las Vegas Academy of the Arts, every day of school is a gamble, and the odds aren’t in their favor. 

In light of the worldwide protests in the fight to abolish systemic racism, students at the Academy have been using social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter to share their stories of discrimination and favoritism on-campus. 

“The first posts about LVA had to do with racism in every department,” an anonymous student said of the beginnings of the movement. “It slowly progressed to the rampant and known sexual assault at the school, and then progressed to the mental health and drug aspects.” 

A particular subject of these allegations has been Scott Walker, the principal at the Las Vegas Academy. Multiple petitions can be found on the website change.com calling for the principal to be fired. The most popular petition, created by an anonymous group known only as “LVA Testimonies,” has over 2,500 signatures as of June 21st. 

“[Walker] has a past of direct conflict with student-run queer and feminist clubs,” the petition’s description reads. “It is time that this school move forward with a principal that is interested in the students’ care and learning, not focused on funding and awards.” 

Principal Walker did not respond to questions on the topic of the movement. 

The discrimination and deterioration of students attending the Academy is reflected in recent data involving the school as well. A survey conducted in fall of 2019 found that white students attending the Las Vegas Academy gave the school’s cultural and racial understanding an average score of 433 out of 500 possible points, whereas the black and African-American school population only gave an average of 366 points.

In addition to this data, the same survey found that the students’ feeling of physical safety was declining with each year the student stayed enrolled. Where 9th graders have scored their physical safety at an average 426 out of 500 points, the 10th graders have reported an average of only 396 points. This decline continues throughout the grades, with seniors giving an average score of 367 points. 

Many testimonies of students and alumni have also been targeting discrimination via the administration as a whole, including certain teachers and often counselors. Accounts of rape and sexual assault reports being swept under the rug as well as violations of personal rights are among the most common. 

“It doesn’t matter what you go through at LVA. The administration exudes hypocrisy at every level,” one student’s recalling of events via a Twitter post stated. “If you make admin’s radar, you will be ashamed at the way your school treats its most vulnerable students. The LVA way, to me, will always be one of enforcement above rehabilitation.” 

Other segments of this confession recalled the blatant ignorance of reported sexual assault cases, as well as threatening students with expulsion over false accusations. Though these reports had been piling up for years prior, there was a surge in the demand for justice along with the worldwide Black Lives Matter movement. 

The most infamous of these reports, as well as one of the most shocking, is that of David Andino. Andino, a former theater teacher of Puerto-Rican descent at the school, recalled his experience with prejudiced administrators and staff in a FaceBook post. The post quickly took off, being spread over other social media platforms by students, teachers, and parents district-wide. 

“[Assistant Principal] Susan threatened me with ‘insubordination’ my FIRST week because I was wearing my Yankee hat to work. My opinion on this will NEVER change. WEARING A HAT HAS NO BEARING ON MY ABILITY TO TEACH THEATRE. I said it was a cultural thing. She said she understands mexican culture because she grew up around it in Texas, but it wasn’t allowed in school. I told her I wasn’t mexican.”

This encounter is one of many which the post describes, including students being brought in to give information on Andino, as well as ignorance of student concerns over unfair treatment of the teacher.

“Over 50 students complained to the superintendent I was being treated unfairly by the staff at LVA. They even formed a group unifying against Scott and Susan and Jill who were trying to assassinate my character from the MOMENT I became a teacher. 

They even threatened not to do the [mid-year Thespian’s Choice] show the day I was removed. 

Nothing was EVER done.”

Statistics from a fall survey show a general uncertainty about the cultural and linguistic competence of the school as well. Out of 500 points, Black and African-American students only rated competence at an average of 366. In comparison to an average rating of 433 points by Caucasian students. 

So it’s clear there’s an issue with the school’s administration. But how can the problem be fixed? What has to happen to make students and teachers, regardless of race or gender, feel safe and welcomed at Las Vegas Academy?

“[Administration] needs to be completely reevaluated as a whole,” suggests Mallory Carvalho, one of many students who have shared their LVA experiences. “They need to also have more compassion for the students for more than their education – they need it for their mental health and well-being as well.” 

Whatever the true solution may be, what’s clear is that the goings-on at Las Vegas Academy are more than what’s shown on the surface. As the district goes into an incredibly modified school year with uncertainty, it’s important not to forget the troubles of systemic racism within LVA and the entire district. 

“You have to understand. It’s not normally big acts of racism. Those usually end in horrible ways that make national news,” Andino wrote at the end of his post. “It’s the minutia of it. It’s the way they come at you behind closed doors. It’s the way they look at you or talk to you. It’s the way they cater to other white people over you.” 

The struggle for representation and equal treatment of students of color is a worldwide societal issue, but in the Clark County School District, it’s part of a much bigger issue. If the administration at LVA expects to improve student and staff morale, their best bet is on black. 

Sources:

http://datatool.nevadaschoolclimate.org

http://reports.nevadaschoolclimate.org/Report/2019-20%20fall/English/Clark%20County%20(district%20survey)/Coronado%20HS.pdf

http://reports.nevadaschoolclimate.org/Report/2019-20%20fall/English/Clark%20County%20(district%20survey)/Las%20Vegas%20Acad%20HS.pdf

Do you want to write a guest article about Las Vegas for FTC? Send @RexFromVegas a DM on Instagram or twitter and we’ll post your piece!

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