If Highland Park Wants to Retain Property Values, They Should Worry About What Happened There Last Week

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Jamie Ford, author (The Associated Press)

There is a fine line we as parents walk with our children. We love them so much, we want to give them the best of every possible good thing, great experiences, and of course ensconce them in 4819 Auburndale HPsecurity and safety. Which is why buyers spend upwards of a million dollars to live in the Park Cities. What are they buying? Safety and those highly rated schools.

Case in point: this is 4819 Auburndale, $975K, a teardown. HP schools. But maybe, after the world hears what happened to a renown young author, buyers might think twice about buying to send their children to Highland Park High School, because of the culture.

Author Jamie Ford says he was “mocked” by a group of students during his talk last Thursday, he being keynote speaker at the town’s literary festival. Ford, author of, among other books, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, says, on his personal website,  “a thousand students, trolling me,” as teachers and a principal looked on.”

“After visiting more than 100 schools, from inner-city schools in New York, the kind with clear backpacks and metal detectors, to elite international baccalaureate high schools, including one where the previous year’s guest speaker was Justin Bieber — I’ve finally had a school visit … go sideways,” Ford wrote. “I’m looking at you, Highland Park High School, and I’m confused.”

According to the reporting in The Dallas Morning News, teens were a bit rowdy at the beginning — “predictably rowdy”, it reported, which perked my antennae right there: why would teens be “predictably rowdy” at a literary discussion? This was not a pep rally. But on Ford’s Facebook page, he says the start of his talk went smoothly. The News says:

…a few students escorted out of the auditorium by teachers, their behavior deteriorated to the point where Ford was forced to quickly blurt out responses to questions.

Ford was not feeling the love:

“Despite the 1000 to 1 odds, I wasn’t about to be run off the stage by a bunch [of] entitled children who had decided I was just another mark to be bullied,” he wrote.

Ford is Chinese-American, and his great-grandfather emigrated from China and worked in Nevada’s borax mines. His first book is set in the Japanese internment in the U.S. during World War II, when we were at war with Japan. He spoke about the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans and nationals, his point to the students being that we should never forget the darker history our fellow humans created, because if we do, it “diminishes us as a people.” Pretty serious stuff.
But apparently, the students clapped, as if they were cheering the incarceration. 

On his Facebook page, Ford compares the students’ attitude to former Highland Park student Levi Pettit, who was videotaped leading a racist cheer that included the despicable “N-word” with his Oklahoma fraternity brothers.

“In coming to Highland Park High School, I thought that was an anomaly by an immature alum, a racially insensitive apple in a barrel of healthy fruit,” Ford wrote. “But now I’m not so sure.”

If the students were so terribly bad — teachers apparently escorted some out during the opening remarks — why did a teacher or principal not grab the mic and tell them to pipe down? Later, Ford said he was approached by several students who attempted to apologize for their rowdy peers, but what they said troubled Ford even more:

Yes, a handful of your students sought me out to apologize on behalf of their peers. And they were truly wonderful and I enjoyed our time together. But they also said troubling things like “This place is awesome, but half the kids are basically corrupt politicians in the making and future date rapists.” They even used an acronym, the FDRC, the Future Date Rape Club. (Please tell me that’s just a joke.)

Wow, strong words. Where were the teachers and the principal? Are teachers in Highland Park afraid to discipline students for fear of reprisal from parents? Is the culture there insurmountably bigoted and mysoginistic?

School officials say they “will work with our students to improve as a result of this experience.”

What should they do? What should parents do? Was this author over-reacting to a bunch of teenagers? And could this type of rap hurt the sales of Highland Park homes in the future?

13 Comment

  • Considering a quasi-apology was issued by the school, I don’t think the author was exaggerating.

  • I often tell people who insist HPISD is the only option in town that they should be open to looking at DISD and RISD. HP is great for some, but there are amazing options elsewhere. At the high school level, HP has to do everything in one building–basically, try to have a Booker T. Washington, Skyline, Townview, etc. while also serving the general student population and special ed. And don’t even think about shortchanging athletics! HP also insists that AP is preferable to IB, which seems like a convenient way to say “We don’t have room/funding/whatever for IB.” Don’t even get me started on the indoor football practice facility!

    We bought into the HPISD dream 15 years ago only to find it isn’t all that. When we first moved in a good friend said they were going to go to RISD because they valued the diversity in the schools. The ‘real world’ isn’t all white after all, and she saw the benefit of having her kids in a diverse environment. Our property investment has done amazingly well over the years but I wouldn’t dream of sending my now-6th grader to the high school for a variety of reasons. It is great for many; I think there are better options for him. We’re looking at DISD magnet schools and RISD. I’m Realtor and have talked several clients into doing the same. No place is perfect for everybody and the great thing about the Dallas area is there is something for everyone, whether it’s HPISD, DISD, private or something else.

  • [why would teens be “predictably rowdy” at a literary discussion? ]

    Ok, you’ve obviously never worked with teenagers. That’s ok, not criticizing you there. But, yes, there is a certain amount of “predictably rowdiness” that a big group of teens will display at a literary discussion. I’m sure that if the guy had spoken at hundreds of schools, he’s at least once had such an occasion where some of the kids weren’t exactly paying close attention.

    The rest of it is not ok.

  • HPISD enrollment has fallen since 2014. There are good reasons why ~30% of the children in the HPISD school district choose to put them in private schools!!!

  • According to Zillow, Highland Park and University Park’s real estate market are currently COLD. Maybe word on HPISD’s curriculum has already gotten out beyond the school district boundaries???

    https://www.zillow.com/highland-park-tx/home-values/
    https://www.zillow.com/university-park-tx/home-values/

  • Thank you for this piece, Candy. I always appreciate your writing and enjoy your content. But, your headline is absolutely true. Our friends have already been talking about how the oft-envied address is really more and more undesirable. And anyone whose lived in Dallas long knows that driving through HP is dangerous for non-whites. You get profiled. My nephew, whose has a Hispanic surname and a beat-up work truck, was subjected to this. He has a medical practice and a million dollar home. But those things don’t show up when you run a license plate – all that’s visible is the surname, and the truck. The HP police could provide no reason for stopping him – because there was only one reason. Some HP Police are directed by the same attitudes and prejudices as the school administrators who sat idly by. It is engrained prejudice and racism. And, you’re right, it might someday hit residents in the one place that seems to matter, their real estate values.

  • Eloise Elloitt Laird, the word is scapegoat. As for your justification of the rudeness…what a perfect illustration of the author’s point.

  • Since he knows nothing of the Park Cities why leave him with a bad impression? Now all he knows of are rude high-schoolers and a do-nothing administration. He didn’t manufacture that; it’s what he actually experienced. He didn’t bait the students into behaving that way. If he were that good at baiting, this wouldn’t be the first time for him to have this experience.

  • The kids that disrupted this speaker and Levi Pettit represent HPISD no more than Richard Spencer represents what St. Mark’s stands for. The speaker deserves an apology, but the 95%+ of good kids that did nothing wrong do not deserve to be categorically cast as bad apples. Based on what has been reported on how poorly this group behaved, the administration should have 1) taken a more proactive stance to shutdown the disruptive students, 2) taken Mr. Ford aside to personally apologize to him after the event, and 3) disciplined the students involved with the disruption.

    I did not attend a high school anywhere near as affluent as HPISD. This kind of behavior was the norm if the entire school population was in attendance anytime we had a guest speaker. (In fact, a literary session like this would’ve been confined to AP students for fear of having a situation 10x worse than what has been reported in this instance.) Several high school aged kids misbehaving for a convocation was so common place that I guess it was never deemed worthy of being reported in the news back then.

    I guess the next shoe to drop is that we will learn that there is a group of kids at HPISD who drink, smoke, do drugs, and have premarital sex. Nothing good could come from an environment with those kinds of heathens polluting the water. If news like this ever got out, people would surely flee the area to safer confines for their kids and property values would surely crater ~50%!

    HPISD is and will be just fine. It will remain a good choice for families who want raise their kids in an area with a small town feel located just 5 miles from downtown Dallas. It is not perfect, and it is not the right choice for everybody (for a variety of reasons).

  • An incident happened last year at my daughter’s high school that was racist. The kids were immediately suspended and expelled (depending on their involvement). The action taken was swift. This situation in at Highland Park was basically most of the Freshman and Sophomore class laughing, heckling and trolling someone in person about the Japanese Internment. I would have thought the school system’s reaction would be WAY, WAY stronger than this. I also don’t care that this is an “affluent area.” So what!! Let’s face it, if the Junior and Senior class were in the assembly they would have done the same. The Juniors and Seniors are only a little bit older than the kids who did this. I live in the highest real estate market in the country (not Texas) and I just explained how a school handled something like this where I live. The affluence isn’t the real problem — it’s the backwards, ignorant, racist parents and school officials. There’s no escaping that fact. The parents who lashed back at this author just raised their hands and said “Hi there, I’m a racist, backward, ignorant idiot!”

    • When I went to HPHS, I heard a white student complain that she didn’t want to see an Asian girl be the class valedictorian. She said it was an affront to the white race. That’s a real remark that I heard back in school. Yes, I’d say lots of them are racists.