West Sylvan Middle School’s response to January hate-based attack


Leela Moreno

West Sylvan Middle School is one of two public feeder schools to Lincoln; the other feeder school is Skyline K-8. 62% of students at West Sylvan identify as white while only 3% of students identify as Black. Lincoln is 66% white.

After a hate-based attack on a student at West Sylvan Middle School occurred in January, Cardinal Times reporters investigated the school’s response.

According to a Feb. 9 article published in The Oregonian, in January of 2023 one of few Black students at West Sylvan Middle School was attacked by fellow eighth-graders. While the Black student was out of class getting water, two classmates grabbed and pinned him against the wall, pretending that they were putting him in handcuffs. They forced him onto the ground face down and used the lanyard from their hall pass to tie his hands behind his back. One of the attackers put their knee on his back and said he was going to wait 20 seconds. A student from a nearby classroom helped break up the violent attack. In the Oregonian article, the attacked student’s father, Raheem Alexzander, is quoted saying, “They were acting as if my son was George Floyd, waiting for him to die.” According to The Oregonian, the two students involved have since been expelled from West Sylvan. 

Nyilah Lewis, a junior at Lincoln who identifies as Black, drew from her own experiences at West Sylvan to express her initial reactions to the attack.

“Was I surprised something like this happened? No, I myself experienced inequality there. I felt so out of place but I never experienced something this far,” she said. 

Lewis said that students’ environments shape them and their actions.

“Kids don’t just wake up and act like this. This is taught behavior, this is learned behavior. From family, friends and their own community,” Lewis said. 

Following the attack, the West Sylvan Middle School counseling team – Rebecca Cohen, Kandice Abney and Ricky Almeida – went into classrooms and led dialogue surrounding bullying. After learning that many students didn’t feel comfortable interrupting negative behavior, the West Sylvan counseling team taught lessons on bystander intervention.

In addition, starting at the beginning of this school year, West Sylvan introduced a new advisory program which provides 30 minutes at the end of the day for a smaller group of students to meet with a teacher. The time is dedicated to incorporating Social Emotional Learning  (SEL), community building and student engagement. Since the attack, advisory time has been used more intentionally to build upon lesson materials.

The West Sylvan counseling team reached every student, but in the future they would like to see a different structure.

“In an ideal world, all the teachers would have all the training in order to make them feel more comfortable to present the lessons and then the students would get it and we’d be able to just do [lessons] all the time,” said Cohen.

Before this can happen, Almeida believes that teachers need more training to better support students of color. He wants to see more action from Portland Public Schools and the Oregon Department of Education to hold schools and administration accountable for anti-racist training. 

“[I would like for] the teachers to have comprehensive, anti racist training, that they’re required to go to, provided by outside of the school resources,” said Almeida.

Lewis thinks that education around race needs to be a priority for West Sylvan students before they enter Lincoln. 

“Those eighth graders are going to walk into Lincoln next year or another high school and I don’t want them walking in thinking it’s okay,” said Lewis. 


Note: West Sylvan Principal Jill Hunt declined an interview with the Cardinal Times, stating, “I am sorry, and I cannot do any interviews regarding this incident.” Additionally, after efforts to interview the parents of the attacked student, our interview fell through.