About 20 students at an elite San Francisco high school walked out of class Tuesday morning in protest of what they see as racist behavior from fellow students.
Lowell High School students walked out of class around 9 a.m. and headed toward San Francisco City Hall for an 11 a.m. rally, where they were greeted by a representative from the mayor's office and by Supervisors Norman Yee and Malia Cohen, as well as by the Rev. Amos Brown, president of the local branch of the NAACP. The students attended a district board meeting late Tuesday to talk to school officials and make demands.
"I am deeply disturbed about what we're hearing and I applaud these students speaking up about their experience," San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Richard Carranza said at the board meeting. "We are listening to you and we agree this is absolutely unacceptable."
Students at the board meeting demanded a change in the school's curriculum and more African American teachers and staff.
The school’s Black Student Union group said students found racist imagery on the windows of the school's library earlier this month.
Photos of prominent African-Americans — including Kanye West, President Barack Obama, and a shot of Ice Cube and Chris Tucker in the movie "Friday" — were taped to the window alongside a printout that said "HAPPY BLACK HISTORY MONTH #GANG," the group said.
The display, which prompted students to organize Tuesday’s rally calling for change, is one example of the types of racist comments and uncomfortable climate many black students experience at Lowell, students said.
"This is the evidence we needed so we can bring out our past experience of what we go through," student Christlyn Earle said.
Rev. Brown said the walkout is "an indication that courage has not skipped the Millennial generation."
A school district representative said the person responsible for the display has been dealt with, but did not elaborate.
Lowell's principal, Andrew Ishibashi, condoned the walkout and admitted the school has a long way to go. He said he'll be meeting with community leaders, "continue the listening," then implement "corrective action."
Lowell has 132 teachers, but only four of them are African-American, one faculty member told NBC Bay Area. San Francisco Unified spokesperson Gentle Blythe said the district has been trying to attract more African-American candidates for teaching positions, but the nationwide teacher shortage has compounded the issue.
A number of students said they had experienced incidents of being called "ghetto" or dirty, of having other students refuse to believe they could be taking Advanced Placement classes, and of being told by adults that they needed to change the way they looked to fit in. Several students said they did not feel like they belonged at Lowell.
"We go to the same school, we passed the same test, so what makes us different?" one student said. "We are just as smart as everyone at the school, we worked just as hard to get there."
"I personally feel that the school can do more," Lowell sophomore Charlotte Schwartz said. "But, being someone that believes they can do more, I also believe that they’re taking a step at all, which is more than most schools would do for this."
Lowell, the city’s top-rated academic high school, has an enrollment of 2,650 students. Fewer than 60 of them are African-American.
NBC Bay Area's Chuck Coppola, Mark Matthews, Cheryl Hurd, and Bay City News contributed to this report.