Exploring race and racism is part of history classes across the U.S., where slavery, Jim Crow and systematic discrimination have all played a part in how Americans perceive one another.
But one high school student's history project, which students say was approved by a teacher at Harbor Teacher Preparation Academy in Wilmington, Calif., is stirring outrage.
The student dressed in full Ku Klux Klan garb while at school, photos and video obtained by KABC show. Classmates told the station that seeing him walk around campus for most of the day in the white robe and conical hood with two holes for his eyes made them uncomfortable — but not as uncomfortable as the approval the student got from his teacher to wear the KKK costume while presenting his final project to the class.
"It was kind of disheartening to me. It kind of rattled me. It was hard to believe that [the teacher] would allow a klansman to walk around from her approval," Trinity Young, a rising senior, told KABC. "So, we asked her, and she said that, she compared the Klan to the Black Panther Party, which in my opinion are two different things. So yeah, it was troubling."
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The student has not been identified except for his gender and his freshman grade level during the previous school year. KABC reported that he wore the costume to school on Friday, June 8.
But according to KNBC, it was during a new student orientation meeting with parents for the following school year where questions and outrage over the video really boiled over.
"It's sad, makes me very sad to see that they would be okay with that," Kimberly Knox, whose children attend the school, told KNBC.
Ninety-six percent of the students who attend Harbor Teacher Preparation Academy are minorities, according to U.S News and World Report. It also sends more than 85 percent of those students to college, making it one of the top schools in Southern California in that metric, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Los Angeles Unified School District spokeswoman Shannon Haber released a statement to McClatchy, calling the costume "insensitive and highly inappropriate." It read:
"During a final project for a history class, a student at Harbor Teacher Preparation Academy chose to explore topics related to racism. The student’s presentation included a costume that was insensitive and highly inappropriate. An investigation of this incident is underway. L.A. Unified and Harbor Teacher Preparation Academy understand the extreme sensitivity around this issue and do not condone or support this type of re-enactment. The District and the school are committed to supporting diversity and fostering an environment to encourage student success. We sincerely apologize to the L.A. Unified community for this incident."