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Racial comment sparks Tosa West protest

Posted at 8:03 PM, Apr 25, 2016

Students at Wauwatosa West High School are protesting their principal. They rallied this morning against a racial comment.

School started at Wauwautosa West High School with speeches and chanting. It was all captured on a Youtube.com video.

Last Friday, Thomas Leonard's class was interrupted when the principal came in to check on a substitute teacher.  He quickly noticed Leonard sitting in the back.

"He makes a comment and says it to the whole class, 'Can somebody tell this kid it's not the 1960s anymore black people don't have to sit in the back of the classroom,'" says Thomas Leonard.

Leonard said the class feel silent.

"His response was, 'Oh come on, nobody thought that was funny,'" says Thomas Leonard.

In a written statement to parents and students Principal Frank Calarco says he was trying to talk about social justice in class.

"I want to be clear that there was no joke intended. This is a serious subject and I now know that many students are not ready to talk about these issues. I have more work to do before we can have more conversations around social justice," said Calarco in a statement.

One of Leonard's friends says he was upset by the comment but he knows Principal Calarco and says his overall motive is to help students.

"Freshman year I wasn't the greatest kid and he kind of molded me into what I am today," says James Canady, senior.

Leonard says other students reached out to him saying this is not the first time they had heard a comment like this from the principal or other school leaders.

"I do want change and I do want reform from our school. And i do want the leadership, the administrators and the superintendent in our district to hold Mr. Calarco accountable," Leonard says.

The school district also released a statement through Superintendent Dr. Phil Ertl saying the school works hard to address issues of race and ethnicity in an open dialague and that much work still needs to be done.

"Just as Principal Calarco has apologized, I, too, want to offer students and families my heartfelt apology for this situation. As a school district, our focus is on creating a safe and inviting school environment for all students. These comments moved us away from that goal," said Dr. Phil Ertl in a statement. "I am very sorry.' 

State Representative David Bowen (D-Milwaukee) met with students of Wauwatosa West's Black Student Union. He said he has worked with other school districts addressing the issue of race. Bowen says that through work and an open dialogue schools can move in a positive direction after these situations.