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Use of racial slur in video featuring Richwoods secretary denounced by students, parents

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Peoria Public Schools

A number of students are concerned for the Richwoods High School community after a recently surfaced video appeared to show secretary Courtney Lewis use the n-word.

Reports of the video first emerged early last week, along with confirmation by Peoria Federation of Teachers leadership that Lewis was placed on paid administrative leave. At Monday night’s Board of Education meeting, some public commenters asserted Lewis has since resigned from her position at Richwoods, though the administration did not confirm or deny their statements.

Richwoods students that participated in the public comment portion of the meeting described feeling “bewilderment” after seeing the video and gave examples of other microaggressions experienced in the classroom, like one Black student repeatedly being mistaken for another. According to the 2020 Illinois Report Card, the student body at Richwoods High School is made up of 30.9% Black students.

A Change.org petition calling for Lewis to be fired has also been published, and as of press time, has received nearly 2,000 signatures.

Following their comments, Board President Gregory Wilson expressed support for the students and offered his help moving forward.

“I’m very proud of each and every last one of you for stepping up and making your public comments today,” said Wilson. “I’m going to stand right along with you all...and whatever it is that I can do to ensure that your voices continue to be heard, I want to do that.”

Superintendent Dr. Sharon Kherat took a more objective stance in her response to the students, emphasizing a requirement for procedure and discouraging hurried decision-making.

“A lot of people don’t understand that there is a process, the board can’t just say, ‘Okay, boom.’ [about] this or that, nor can I,” said Kherat. “But the important process is you’re involved, and you’re making comments, and you’re providing your feelings and experiences, and then you trust that the process will continue along that path.”

She concluded by sharing a piece of advice for students.

“It may not be popular, but I want to say to you, I think it’s a good lesson to learn...we all are human beings, and we do make mistakes,” said Kherat. “And sometimes, we do have to forgive as well, and I want us to keep that in the back of our heads as you grow up to be leaders.”

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