RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Richmond school leaders are now making a public apology, after a group of Latino students were searched for weapons and even threatened with deportation, two years ago.
Hispanic students at Huguenot High School say administrators targeted them after reports of a potential fight brewing. Jonathan Villatoro, a student at the time, says their bags were searched, administrators threatened to call police and immigration officials.
Outrage and protests followed from Latino students and their families. Villatoro said that initially school leaders turned a blind eye to backlash over the incident."
All the talk was denied, really. [School officials said] it didn't happen. It didn't happen the way you say it happened, and pretty much [school officials] tried to downplay the incident," Villatoro said.
Two years later, school leaders publicly owned up to the events of that day, calling the search "inappropriate."
"I offer my deepest apologies to the students involved, as well as their families, for any threats, mistreatment, intimidation, statements or inferences of deportation that were stated or implied," Huguenot High principal Jafar Barakat said.
Dr. Dana Bedden, Richmond Public Schools superintendent, also addressed the students."An incident occurred that I, nor anyone currently working at RPS, feels very proud about," said Dr. Bedden, who wasn't at the school at the time of the incident.
The Latino students and their families say they're accepting the apology. However, they say it's only a first step, and that it took two years of fighting the system to get to this day.
Villatoro says the threat of deportation is only too real.
"My family has suffered from deportation, when they tried to take my dad. And I personally know the fear that it is to sit there, pushing against the door so [immigration officials] wouldn't come in," Villatoro said.
The Hispanic students and their parents say they do see some strides forward, like RPS instituting interpretation services, and a possible welcoming center for non-English speaking students. Dr. Bedden says he's allotted $1 million for translation and interpretive services across the school system in his proposed budget."I believe that our demands are being met slowly but surely," Villatoro said.