Edmonton student suspended after taking on racism in social media post
'I felt like if anyone ever stands up for something again that is wrong, they’re going to get punished too.'
When Paige Sernowski spotted what she describes as a racist photo on Snapchat, she decided to call attention to the injustice.
The Edmonton student captured the image, vented her anger against the student responsible, and posted it on Twitter.
The next day she was suspended.
Now, two girls at M.E. LaZerte High School are trying to deal with the aftermath. One feels angry that she missed two days of classes, the other feels unsafe in the classrooms where she has always excelled.
The whole thing started on Feb. 11. Nasri Warsame said his 17-year-old daughter was devastated when she learned that someone had taken her photo in the school hallway, typed the words "Get out of my way n****rs" underneath and posted the image on Snapchat, a photo and video sharing application.
"It's clear racism, racist remarks, it shouldn't happen," said Warsame. "It is mean-spirited, that's what she thinks, and a stupid thing to say or utter."
He said since the incident, his daughter has been afraid to ride the bus to school and instead insists that he drive her every day.
"She's a very good student but this made her feel in a different way, and she takes a different approach now to school, and is so hesitant to go to school."
'Hurtful and wrong'
Warsame said his daughter first found out about the post after Paige Sernowski spotted the picture and posted it on Twitter with a comment: "are you seriously f****d to post that on your story … racism is everywhere."
Sernowski, 16, said she only did so to expose something she saw as hurtful and wrong.
"You're supposed to have respect for everyone for every race," she said, "and it's terrible to see that there's kids that go to my school that actually say these things about other people."
Her tweet was re-tweeted nearly 100 times before she was asked to delete it by the school. Sernowski said she was told she wouldn't get in any trouble if she did.
But that changed the next day, when she was asked to go to the school office.
'I just didn't understand why I should suffer any consequences'
That's when she was told by the teacher handling the issue that her actions were inappropriate as well.
"He started saying what I did was wrong, and that I should be punished and I should suffer consequences," said Sernowski. "I just didn't understand why I should suffer any consequences for trying to make my voice heard, trying to say that racism is very wrong."
Sernowski was handed a two-day suspension from the school.
A school letter sent to her parents, dated Feb. 12, confirmed the two-day suspension was for "taking a snapshot of an inappropriate posting on Snapchat and posting it on Twitter."
It meant she missed a special school Valentine's celebration she'd been looking forward to, as well as Chemistry 20, an important class she's afraid to miss and one that's critical as part of her goal to work in medicine, possibly as a nurse.
"I felt like if anyone ever stands up for something again that is wrong, they're going to get punished too."
'I have sympathy for that girl'
Nasri Warsame can't quite believe what happened to his daughter's fellow student. He's grateful for her actions, and said he may have never known what happened without her intervention.
I feel very troubled and I have sympathy for that girl," Warsame said. "What she has done was amazing. And I will say, keep going, you are doing good things. That was wrong and against the policy of encouraging people to come forward."
He said not enough has been done to address the issue. He said the school hasn't told him what action, if any, has been taken against the student who took the original photo, leaving his daughter feeling "uncomfortable" in school.
The assistant principal who dealt with the matter refused an interview with CBC and instead directed calls to the Edmonton Public School Board.
Citing privacy policies governing minors, the board won't discuss what happened at the school either.
School board takes any allegations of abuse 'very seriously'
A spokesperson told CBC News suspensions happen at the discretion of school principals and are enforced when codes of conduct are breached.
The school board said any allegations of abuse or discrimination of any kind are taken seriously, and that the safety and dignity of students is paramount.
That's little consolation for Nasri Warsame who hasn't been impressed with the response in his daughter's case.
"I feel that the school hasn't taken preventative strategies to overcome and explain exactly what happened. What I felt from my meeting with the principal is they're not yet prepared to deal with this kind of situation."
No news on student who took the photo
Sernowski said as angry as she feels about what happened to her, she would do the same thing in the future and is pleased that her family and friends support her.
"I feel proud to know I did something right. Honestly, I was suspended for doing something right."
Warsame believes the student who posted the original photo should be expelled from his daughter's school, to send a clear message racism will not be tolerated.
The school board said expelling a student is a decision beyond the authority of the principal and would involve the elected trustees with a final decision resting with the superintendent of schools.
Whether that happens or not, the board said the decision will not be made public, since there is a policy that protects the privacy of students.