On Monday afternoon, Jones College Prep students staged a sit-in just a week after a student wore what appeared to be a Nazi uniform to school as a Halloween costume and days after Chicago Public Schools (CPS) suspended its principal from the school—with pay. 

A coalition of student organizations at Jones collaborated to organize the sit-in to highlight issues of racism and discrimination against marginalized students and the school administration that they feel has repeatedly ignored their concerns and not taken any action to resolve them.  

“The [news] headlines are saying, He came to school in a Nazi costume. Oh, he did this to the Jewish community.’ Let’s talk about everything he did and not just talk about this one event. It took him coming in here with a costume and parading on the stage for y’all to do something,” Jayla McCullum, a junior at Jones College Prep, told a group of reporters outside of the school on Monday. 

McCullum and other Jones students who spoke to media during the sit-in said the student in question had repeated instances of aggression and instances in which he’s made racist statements to different minority groups at Jones. Students also alleged that the offending student was caught using a school computer to search for guns.

Overall, Jones students who participated in today’s action believe that the school’s administration has a history of downplaying instances of sexual assault, abuse and racist acts. This latest racist incident supports their notion, they said. 

According to students, administrators also recently downplayed a safety threat. For example, due to a bomb threat, the lights were briefly turned on during this year’s homecoming dance, according to Ariel Parsons, a junior at the school. 

Students were told there was a threat but weren’t given any details about what happened until the dance concluded, which upset Parsons’ mother, Ariel said, adding, “My mother was livid.”

“She shouldn’t have to repeatedly tell me to be safe while I’m in the building,” she also said. 

On Monday, Jones College Prep students held a sit-in demonstration after a fellow student wore what appeared to be a Nazi uniform on Halloween. Photo by Tyger Ligon for The TRiiBE ®

Last week, a video of the offending student goose-stepping during the school’s Halloween costume contest surfaced on Twitter. Initially, Jones College Prep principal Dr. Joseph Powers responded to the outrage by writing a letter to the school community stating that the student was wearing an “East German (communist-era) border guard uniform probably from the 1980s.” 

It’s unclear what disciplinary action the uniform-wearing student received. Student organizer and senior Aden Zalesky told reporters the offending student did not attend school today. Citing student privacy laws, CPS told The TRiiBE, “the District is limited in the information it can share.”

On Nov. 4, Powers was subsequently removed from his position by CPS, “pending the results of that investigation,” said CPS CEO Pedro Martinez. 

“This incident caused harm to many students and staff, and it is completely inconsistent with our values as a school district. It also comes at a time when hateful speech and hateful attacks are on the rise, especially against Jewish Americans,” Martinez wrote. 

Block Club Chicago reported that former principal Arthur Slater would step into the role immediately. 

In the past, Powers has faced pressure to resign in light of complaints about the school’s racist atmosphere and violations of federal sex-discrimination laws connected to its sports teams. In March, Jones College Prep’s Local School Council (LSC) voted 8-2  to direct Martinez to fire Powers. LSC members were concerned about the school’s finances and Powers ignoring students and their issues, according to CBS Chicago. Instead, in April, Martinez decided not to fire Powers due to “ insufficient evidence.”

Students planned for Monday’s action to be a walkout but shifted their plan and staged a sit-in in the building’s lobby, just steps away from the school’s administrative offices. Student organizers gave speeches indoors and walked outside the school’s courtyard to speak to the student body. They want the school’s administration to address past incidents so that future racist acts don’t happen again. In addition, they want to be safe at school. 

Regarding punishment for the offending student, students who spoke with the media during the sit-in believe there should be repercussions, but they’d like to approach it with a restorative justice lens. Restorative justice circles are used outside of the criminal legal system to repair the harm caused by crime. 

Typically, an individual meets with trained community members to discuss the impact their choice has had on the community. They work together to create a repair of harm agreement that the participant must complete.

A screengrab of the video of the Jones College Prep student wearing an apparent Nazi uniform and goose-stepping at the school for Halloween. Click the image to watch the video.

Zalesky—who uses they/them pronouns and who was one of the organizers of the sit-in—told The TRiiBE that they believed that the police may have gotten involved if students who participated left the school building without permission. 

They estimate that half of the school’s student body was in the lobby during the walkout. Through the large windows, The TRiiBE observed hundreds of students seated on the floor of the building’s lobby, with some standing in solidarity on the second and third floors of the building.

“So to keep our students safe and to make sure that no harmful interactions with the police occurred, we decided to keep it within the building,” Zalesky said. “I don’t speak for the rest of the protest movement, but I feel like it sends a clear message: ‘We are outside your office. We are here. You just need to come out and meet us.’”

With a new principal taking the reins, students stressed that they want the school’s administration to take their issues seriously to prevent other students and prospective students from harm. 

“We need to build trust. They can start by listening to student voices. Sometimes when they listen to us, it goes in one ear and out the other. They need to listen and take in our demands and needs,” said Jones senior Tyler Russell.  

Russell was an organizer of the demonstration and is a member of the student’s Black Student Coalition, which consists of multiple groups, including the Black Student Union and Black Lives Matter. 

Student organizers were encouraged by the number of students participating in the sit-in. 

“I’m very encouraged that people care. We didn’t think our turnout was going to be that big. But it’s showing that our community cares about this issue,” Russell said.

is a multimedia reporter for The TRiiBE.