Students and activists gathered at Prior Lake High School Thursday afternoon to demand justice for a student who was the subject of a racist video posted by her classmate.
The viral video prominently features a female student on screen, as well as the voice of another student coming from offscreen. Both are spouting racial slurs (the n-word among them) and suggesting a student of color, later identified as Nya Sigin, take her own life, all while laughing.
The Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools District and the Savage Police Department said they're investigating the video and Superintendent Dr. Teri Staloch has promised the district will take "swift" and "appropriate" action.
During an afternoon news conference, Staloch said they can't divulge whether the students in the vide have been suspended or not.
Police Chief Rodney Seurer said investigators are still working to determine exactly when and where the video was created. He said the Scott County Attorney's Office is involved, and it's possible more than one person would end up facing criminal charges.
He also confirmed there have been threats made toward family members of the girls in the now widely seen video.
The racist video was posted to social media Monday, Nov. 8, and was shared widely Tuesday on Instagram and TikTok, as well as throughout school districts in Minnesota and nationally, getting the attention of civil rights activist Shaun King among others.
Sigin, a 14-year-old student at Prior Lake High School, subsequently came forward as the target of the video. Her sister, Elizabeth Sigin, a senior at the high school, posted on Instagram about the video on Wednesday, saying Nya had attempted suicide in May and has worked hard to overcome her struggles.
The sisters also spoke to KSTP and FOX 9 on Wednesday, saying they are grateful for the support they've received from classmates and community members but are calling on the school district to penalize the two students involved in the video so they can feel safe at school.
The youth-led protest was planned for 2 p.m. outside of the school, but school officials made the decision to end the school day at 12:45 p.m. to help ensure students remain safe, a letter to parents said. There is already no school on Friday as it is the end of the quarter, the school calendar shows.
Organizers moved up the time of the protest to coincide with the end of the school day. A livestream from the protest showed a crowd of students, some holding signs, outside the high school before 1 p.m. dancing to music in an effort to show their support for Nya, demand the students involved in the video be disciplined, and encouraging people to call out others' racism to stop the injustice against people of color.
Seurer said nobody was arrested during Thursday's protests.
In the days since the racist video went viral, students said racism is an ongoing issue at the school but incidents are often pushed to the side, stressing students need to be held accountable.
Current and former students also shared stories of racism in the district, including being called racial slurs, during Thursday's protest. Some students shared stories of getting in trouble for calling out others for racist comments or actions, and the district protecting those who are called racist.
The Sigin sisters told FOX 9 that the viral video stemmed from the sisters drawing attention to a different racist video that a classmate posted. That in turn led to more racist videos being made that were specifically directed at them.
Students plan to bring stories of racist incidents to the Prior Lake School Board meeting that's scheduled for Monday.
The school district has sent a few letters to families and staff this week regarding the video, stressing the district's priority is to provide a safe, supportive and inclusive place for all students.
In a letter on Wednesday, the district said they had added extra safety measures, including two additional Savage police officers on campus to support students and staff. Superintendent Staloch and John Bezek, the high school's principal, wrote:
"Our immediate concern is the health and well-being of our students. We take the ramifications of the video very seriously and know there is much we can continue to do in the days, weeks and months ahead to ensure we are making our school a safe and respectful place.
"The investigation of this student’s actions remains underway. Due to data privacy, we are not able to share additional details."
A Go Fund Me page has also been created for a college fund for Nya and to "help and support her and her family with whatever they need." In the first 16 hours, it had raised more than $73,000.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community condemned the video, noting it involves a minor in its community.
"Some members in our community have been incorrectly identified as being immediate family members of the minor in this video. They have received significant threats against their safety," the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community said. "These threats and perpetuation of hate must stop. They have become unintended victims. All threats are being reported to and investigated by the Prior Lake Police Department."
At Thursday's protest, speakers reminded people to leave the family alone as they had nothing to do with the racist video.