A Break Down: Breaking News

Revisiting the school’s noteworthy history

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Courtesy of Dr. Daniel T. Brown, PhD.

A group of administrators stand smiling at the sign in the front of the building on it’s opening day.

School Opening

The story of Francis Howell Central High School begins on Aug. 21, 1997 – its opening day. Francis Howell Central was the last of the 3 high schools to be built within the district’s history. Francis Howell High School, which was once known as the Howell Institute, has been operating since 1881. Francis Howell North was built post-Baby Boom in 1986. As the student population continued on a steady incline, the district had to build a new school to house and educate the growing district population. 

When the school first opened, the student body of 953 consisted solely of freshman and sophomore students (Classes of 2000 and 2001). Additionally, most of the building we know today was not yet completed. Don Muench served as the school’s first principal and Terry Kasper was the activities director. A few of the teachers serving at FHC today were also amongst the first teachers to walk through the newly built halls of Howell Central.

Normandy Board Meeting

In 2012, it was announced that the Normandy School District would be losing their accreditation as a result of low test scores. On June 11, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld a state law requiring accredited school districts in St. Louis County to admit students who were residing in unaccredited districts, such as the Normandy School District and the Riverview Gardens District (which was unaccredited in 2007). Unfortunately, this decision was faced with controversy as it was announced that students from the two districts, which had student bodies of mostly Black students, would be bussed across the river to attend schools that were a part of the majority white Francis Howell School District at the expense of the unaccredited school districts. On Thursday, July 11, 2013, there was a district board meeting that took place in the FHC gym where nearly 3,000 parents attended the meeting to voice their concerns about the new students. As parents stood up to talk to the board, they mentioned ideas such as the Normandy and Riverview Gardens students introducing violence to FHSD schools. 

The story later gathered national attention with the New York Times reporting on the situation with an article published on July 31, 2013. Three years later, it was brought up on national level again when television host and political commentator John Oliver cited the board meeting on season 3, episode 28 of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” which aired on Oct. 30, 2016. The episode was discussing modern segregation in schools and showed clips of several parents speaking at the board meeting.

Listen to how these parents in St. Louis reacted to the idea of students from a Black community added to their schools… That is not subtle. She is just a ‘homies’ and a ‘baggy pants’ away from full dog-whistle bingo. Those parents are all extreme examples,” Oliver stated. “But even if you give everyone the benefit of the doubt and you assume all complaints about bus schedules or class sizes are actually just about buses or class sizes, you don’t have to be intentionally racist to do things with racist effect.”

Dept. of Education’s Office of Civil Rights Investigation

FHSD made headlines on Jan. 26, 2016 when it was reported that the The Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education was investigating a case of racial bullying that had been taking place in the district for the last decade. Since elementary school, the then 15-year-old student had been facing students calling him racial slurs on account of his race (Black) and administrators had reportedly done nothing to stop it. At the time of the investigation, the student attended FHC and was still reporting bullying. In light of the investigation, district officials released a statement saying they were cooperating with the Office of Civil Rights and that they do not tolerate any form of discrimination or harassment and investigate all claims of it in the district. To protect the student’s privacy, this was all that could be released to the public.

Car Crashing into the School

At 5:30am on Wednesday, April 24, 2019, FHC parents and students woke up to a phone call informing them that school was canceled for the day. Later on in the morning, it was revealed that at 3:45am a Ford Flex crashed into the building’s front doors. As the doors were equipped with a buzzer-based security system for visitors, school had been canceled for security reasons to protect students and staff. The person responsible for the crash survived and was able to walk away from the scene and was found by the Cottleville Police Department nearby. For the remainder of the school year and half of the following year, the area where the doors were was blocked off by a plywood barrier decorated by the art students.

Dr. Arnel surveys damage to the front entrance caused by a car crashing into the building on April 24, 2019. (Lanie Sanders)

School Shutdown due to Covid

March 13, 2020 is a day which marked the end of an era for both FHC and the world. For the last month, everyone had been hearing of a new disease being referred to as Covid-19 on the news and how it had been spreading rapidly across the globe. Prior to the school’s shutdown, FHC had started to take more precautions as the situation became more serious by telling teachers to not shake hands with parents during parent-teacher conferences and encouraging teachers and students to take all of the items from their lockers or anything they might need home for spring break “just in case.” Only a few days later, on March 15, it was announced on social media and through phone calls to parents and guardians that spring break would be extended for an extra week. Then, 10 days later on March 25, FHSD announced that school buildings would remain closed until April 24, and the District would be releasing information regarding class instruction on March 30. A lot of people had hope that the situation would blow over soon and that schools would reopen, but on April 9 it was announced that in accordance with Governor Mike Parson’s directive, all FHSD schools, including FHC, would be closed for the remainder of the year and classes would continue to be virtual. This upset many students, but especially seniors who felt as though they never got closure on their high school years and missed out on some very important milestones such as prom and senior nights for sports. However, FHSD seniors were still able to have an in-person graduation with restrictions.

Sources:

Facebook, Dr. Daniel T. Brown, PhD., https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1155419764950926&set=a.993201204506117&type=3.

https://www.ksdk.com/article/news/francis-howell-parents-seek-answers-about-normandy-transfer-students/63-308653918 

https://news.stlpublicradio.org/government-politics-issues/2013-07-12/francis-howell-parents-express-outrage-over-incoming-normandy-students 

https://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/01/us/in-missouri-race-complicates-a-transfer-to-better-schools.html 

https://subslikescript.com/series/Last_Week_Tonight_with_John_Oliver-3530232/season-3/episode-28-School_Segregation 

https://www.riverfronttimes.com/news/john-oliver-takes-aim-at-francis-howell-central-in-school-segregation-segment-3127360 

https://www.stltoday.com/news/local/education/office-of-civil-rights-investigating-alleged-racial-bullying-at-francis-howell/article_43557795-7e3c-5005-8380-4ca01514ba94.html 

https://www.ksdk.com/article/news/local/francis-howell-central-high-school-closed-due-to-facility-accident/63-9f7cb197-567c-42e6-a6ee-8c9d746fd548 

https://fhctoday.com/28838/showcase/breaking-suv-destroys-main-entrance/ 

https://www.fhsdschools.org/news/2019-20_news_archive/march_2020_news/all_f_h_s_d_schools_now_closed_through_april_24 

https://www.fhsdschools.org/news/2019-20_news_archive/april_2020_news/f_h_s_d_closure_extended_through_the_remainder_of_