Chatham County School Board has approved changes to its policy to deal with racist acts after reports surfaced of black students being sold at a simulated slave auction at one of the county’s schools.
Superintendent Anthony Jackson also apologized for what happened at JS Waters School in Goldstone.
“Actions like these, they just do not reflect who we are as a school system,” Jackson said. “And I say, without apology, he will not suffer in the education system.”
The actions came after many masses attended a school board meeting on Monday to demand the county take steps to address the situation and prevent similar situations from occurring in the future. Crowds of parents, students and activists crowded the meeting in support of people speaking out against the racist incident.
Chatham County’s school system has garnered national attention since parent Ashley Palmer accused social media of her son experiencing a “slave auction” of black students.
“I want to do something that needs to be done here in public. I want to offer an apology,” Jackson said at the meeting. “Apologies to every single student who ever felt insecure while we were in our care, to any student who has ever felt humiliated, despised or rejected due to his or her race, ethnicity, gender, gender, religion or disability.
“At Chatham County Schools, we are proud that diversity is our strength, and in the future it will be our intentional focus to ensure that this celebration includes everyone. To move forward, it is my personal commitment to you that is made better.”
A coalition of local groups said Monday afternoon that the school council should take steps to address the situation, including requiring students to apologize for the tender. The coalition also wants the county to increase punishments for students and school staff who engage in racist behaviors, including making it a wildfire offense.
“The acts committed against our son and other classmates were extremely disturbing, but not surprising as this is not the first time our family has had to deal with racist acts against one of our children,” Palmer said at a news conference Monday before the school board meeting. Palmer spoke to an audience of 150 people outside the Pittsburgh Presbyterian Church.
“This is just the first time we have decided to go far to make sure it has not just won a billboard of cultural acceptance,” Palmer said. “But I was hoping to get recognition for the extreme racism it is, followed by real consequences worthy of such an abominable act.”
Rhonda Taylor Bullock, an anti-racism coach who spoke at the press conference on Monday, called the auction an “act of racism” and an “act of white supremacy in broad daylight.” Bullock, who attended JS Waters School, said she did not want to “demonize” the students who ran the auction, but said the county must respond forcefully to prevent black students from facing further acts of discrimination.
“How many students should go to JS Waters with a similar story?” Said Bullock. “How many more have to go through being burned, branded as slaves by those horrible memories we will never forget?”
The tender was held in the presence of teachers
A press release from Chatham Organizing For Racial Equity (CORE) released on Monday offers more details on the reported slave sale, such as that it involved middle school students and occurred “in the presence of staff and staff, and while filmed”.
JS Waters is a K-8 rural school, located about 50 miles southwest of Rally. It has 195 students, 68% of whom are white.
“These students have been encouraged not only to commit insolent and overt racist acts, but to respond and continue their aggression after serving a one-day suspension,” according to the press release. “The initial lukewarm response of school principals to these traumatic incidents is problematic.”
Last week, Jackson sent a letter to families about the “recent unacceptable incidents.” He said the district “must commit to dismantling racism and other negative effects affecting our school community.”
Get students to apologize for an auction
The coalition presented a list of eight recommendations for the school board meeting. The list includes:
▪ The students involved should apologize for their discrimination goals and the school community.
▪ Trauma counselors for children who are skilled in racial trauma should be available to support students.
▪ Fix students’ code of conduct “to define racist and discriminatory comments as hate speech separate from current bullying policies with appropriate consequences that match the severity of this abuse our children are facing.”
▪ Change the school staff’s guidelines “to make racist comments and behaviors a fire offense for teachers and staff.”
▪ Review the administration’s response to “this racist and previous events at the school to determine the adequacy of their responses.”
“There should be no discipline for racist acts at the same level as someone pulling at another student’s hair, with a one-day suspension,” Palmer said. “It should have its own mission, which can be reported at the district level and treated with the significant consequences it deserves. No child should face abuse from his peers and staff.”
Bullock said the county needs to make it clear to school staff that they cannot tolerate racist actions in schools.
“If racists are educated and maintain a toxic racist environment, they should be fired,” Bullock said. “We need to normalize that being a victim of racism is an offense that allows fire for anyone who commits this harm.”
This story was originally published 14 March 2022 13:01.