Richmond school leaders to apologize for Latino students

Huguenot High School Principal Jafar Barakat (left) and Richmond School Superintendent Dana T. Bedden will speak at in the auditorium at Huguenot High on Monday.

Richmond’s schools superintendent and Huguenot High School’s principal have announced plans to make a formal apology for an incident two years ago in which school officials say several Latino students at the high school were “improperly searched.”

Neither the specifics of that February 2013 search nor the names of those who orchestrated the searches were detailed in a news release that was sent late Friday afternoon by Superintendent Dana T. Bedden and schools spokeswoman Cletisha Lovelace, neither of whom could be reached by phone Friday evening.

The Wayside Center for Popular Education alleges that there has been a pattern of race and “language-based discrimination” at the high school and that Latino students were lured into a cafeteria under false pretenses before being searched on Feb. 1, 2013.

“Two years ago, the principal of Huguenot High School in Richmond, Va., called all of the Latino students to the cafeteria under the pretext of a meeting with their Latino Club,” the group said in a post on its website. “When they arrived, there was no meeting. Instead their backpacks were searched, and they were escorted to their buses at dismissal time in small groups.”

The post continued: “The principal told them that they were being singled out for this treatment, because he had received information about a fight. He threatened them with reprisals based on their immigration status if they did not cooperate.”

Huguenot Principal Jafar Barakat, who will join Bedden in issuing a public statement, could not be reached for comment late Friday evening.

In an interview Friday evening, Richmond School Board Vice Chairwoman Kristen N. Larson of the 4th District, which includes Huguenot, did not specify exactly what the search entailed.

“All I can say is I’m really happy it’s happening,” Larson said of the planned apology.

“I think the whole apology is just one piece of a bigger puzzle of just rebuilding community trust,” Larson said. “The administration has been meeting with Latino students and families over the past couple of months. ... The bigger issue is that our Latino population in Richmond public schools has grown much faster than we’ve had the ability to keep up with.”

Bedden and Barakat will issue their apology Monday at 1 p.m. in an auditorium at Huguenot High School.

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