Two Hopkins High School students charged after protest over alleged 'ghetto spirit day'

Two Hopkins high school students face misdemeanor charges stemming from a confrontation with school administrators that police say turned physical, after the students, who are African-American, were protesting the school's handling of an incident where they say several white students mocked African American culture.

On Feb. 13 a group of white student athletes at Hopkins dressed up to celebrate their upcoming trip to a state ski meet.

Some African-American students said the ski team members called it "Ghetto Spirit Day."

But one of the students who came up with the idea for the day, whom MPR News has agreed not to name, said he and his teammates called it "Rapper Day."

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"I thought it was just going to be fun with my friends and I guess some people just thought it was a really big deal, and I think it got a little bit out of proportion."

"I thought it was just going to be fun with my friends and I guess some people just thought it was a really big deal, and I think it got a little bit out of proportion," the student said.

Two African-American students complained to school administrators about how the white students were dressed.

One of the protesting students, a sophomore, described what he saw:

"One of them was wearing basketball shorts, a tank top, a "do-rag." Mind you these are all white students," he said.

Almost 70 percent of Hopkins High School's students are white. About one-fifth are black.

The other protesting student, a senior, said "They dressed up like gangsters basically. There were sagging chinchilla coats with the chains, joint in the ear just mocking our culture. Really how we reacted, we felt it was modern day 'blackfacing.'"

MPR is also not naming the two African American students because they are minors and face criminal charges.

School officials say they did not know how the ski team members were dressed until late in the day, too late for them to act. But the African-American students who made the complaint say they informed school officials closer to midday.

The following day the white students were off to their ski meet and would not return until the following week, after a long President's Day weekend.

In the meantime, several African-American students who were upset at what they interpreted as the school's inaction made posters protesting the issue.

Some posters appeared to target Hopkins High assistant principal Trent Lawson, who is African-American.

Administrators took down the posters. Hopkins High School principal Patty Johnson said the students did not follow proper protocol.

"Any signage that is put up in our school is brought to the office to be approved. It is stamped. Then we have specific student bulletin boards," Johnson said.

A day later, the two African-American students who first complained about how the student athletes were dressed, say they entered the assistant principal's office and tried to take the posters back. The Minnetonka Police officer who works in the school was called to the office.

Hopkins High School officials said they cannot discuss what happened in the office because of data privacy.

But according to the police report, one of the African-American students put his hand on the officer's chest in an effort to push him out of the way and leave with the posters.

That student was handcuffed. Both students were held briefly and then released to their parents. The two students admit the meeting was heated, but said neither of them touched the officer.

The African-American students were charged with improper conduct, a misdemeanor similar to disorderly conduct, and were suspended for three days.

The following week when the ski team members returned, they joined the two African-American students in a meeting in the principal's office. The ski team members said they were sorry, and that their actions were not intended to be racist.

But the two students, who were suspended from school and are required to pay a $50 fine or show up in court, say the process was unfair.

"I feel like it was just watered-down justice," the student said. "All the boys had to do, the only consequence for them, was that meeting. And all we did was tell them how we felt, they apologized, and we walked out."

The disciplinary actions are not tied directly to the dispute over the posters, Hopkins School District assistant superintendent Nick Lightfoot said. It's because of what happened in the assistant principal's office.

"People might connect those, but they were distinctly different situations," Lightfoot said.

Hopkins school officials say since February they have met with various groups at the high school, reminding them about the consequences of behavior that can be seen as racially insensitive.