Racist overtones of school homecoming proposal in social media post stir controversy

North Bend Central Superintendent Patrick Ningen talks about how the district has responded to a homecoming proposal with racist overtones. (WOWT)
Published: Sep. 20, 2023 at 5:33 PM CDT
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NORTH BEND, Neb. (WOWT/Gray News) - It’s become a common sort of social media post this time of year: teens getting creative about asking their date to homecoming.

But a photo shared on a community Facebook group out of Dodge County, Nebraska, has created a tricky situation for one school district.

In the photo, two white teens are holding a sign that says: “If I was Black I would be picking cotton. But I’m White so I’m picking you for Hoco.”

The post angered several in the community, who called on the North Bend Central school district to intervene. But it’s not such a simple request, according to Superintendent Patrick Ningen.

For starters, he said, only one of the two people pictured in the photo is a student in the district; the other — who actually made the sign — is not a district student.

Ningen told WOWT that the picture came to light over the weekend. Someone sent it to him, and he made the principal aware of it Monday, even though school wasn’t in session.

They contacted the district attorney for advice on what they could legally do about the incident since it didn’t happen at school, during school, or on school property. Ningen told WOWT they wanted to be certain they were acting within school policy.

He said the district has been in contact with the student and parents involved in the post, applying the district’s policy on student discipline.

“We’re going to do all that we can to make sure that it’s understood that this is not acceptable and that this is something we don’t want to see happen again in the future,” he said.

Ningen also said they wanted to be prepared for any sort of disruptions that might happen regarding the post during school Tuesday when students returned to class. And he said there had been some fallout.

“You know, a little bit,” said Ningen, who added that he’s heard the post has been “going around on social media with parents, with the kids, so there’s definitely an awareness of it.”

Ningen said the district is working on ways to use the experience as a learning opportunity for students.

“For right now, we’re talking about how we can address that and maybe some training we can do and some things we can do with the whole building to create a better sense of sensitivity,” he said. “It takes incidents, sadly, like this to think about what we can do to be better, whether we should be thinking about it ahead of time, you know, and take a proactive approach to it. That’s sad, and it’s also sad that this was done in the first place and posted online. It’s also sad that the school seem to be taking the brunt of this even though it didn’t happen at school, it didn’t happen on school property, or on school devices. The school is the place where kids get educated and parents and people can come and feel safe and part of the community, so we definitely want that to continue and to grow, so we’re going to do everything we can to make that can happen.”

North Bend Central Superintendent Patrick Ningen talks about how the district has responded to a homecoming proposal with racist overtones.