Saturday, April 09, 2011

Lincoln Middle School struggles with race issues

This from the Interior Journal:
I-J Editor’s note: The following story contains language some might find offensive.

On Feb. 15, three African-American girls were left standing in the parking lot as a bus load of their fellow students drove off to an ice cream treat at McDonalds. The first thing one of the girls told her mother when she saw her was, “They kicked me off the bus because I was black.”

An investigation into the incident, conducted by two faculty members disagrees. “The conclusion of the team is that race was not the reason that the students had to leave the bus,” said the findings of the investigation from Superintendent Karen Hatter. Instead, the investigation report states that the students were the unfortunate victims of “a power struggle” between Kim Grimes, the teacher that removed them from the bus and Susan Miller, the Families First Youth Service Center Coordinator (FFYSC) and mother of one of the girls left at the curb, and aunt to another.

The trip to McDonalds was intended to be a reward for students who donated a pair of shoes for needy students, and the shoes were a point of contention between the women. The report states that Grimes, who sponsors the Beta Club that was collecting shoes, believed that Susan Miller had not brought in the requisite donation and that “she was using her position to allow the girls to go anyway.” Miller maintains that Grimes made the unusual requirement that she physically hand the shoes to Grimes whereas other students were allowed to drop shoes off at the school’s front office, and cannot explain why Grimes would be moved to make such an exception.

Completely insulated from the struggle between the adults, the girls struggled to make sense of why they were excluded from the activity. Essence Miller, an 8th grader and Susan Miller’s niece, said, “Ms. Grimes read our names to get on the bus, and then came on the bus and told us to get off. She took us aside and said there wasn’t enough room for us.”

This didn’t wash for Essence who said she watched another 20 students board the bus after she and the two other girls were removed, and even after hearing the official version of what happened doesn’t buy it. “It’s because I’m black,” she said.

The events that drove the girls’ removal from the Lincoln County Middle School (LCMS) Beta Club bus trip might sound trivial, but the repercussions that continue weeks after the event are serious. The girls have been subject to threats of violence, veiled and not so veiled, and recently a toxic climate of racial hostility bubbling below the surface of the high performing school was made manifest when threatening letters were taped to stalls in the girls restroom. There isn’t much question to whom the message on the letters which started and ended with “KKK” was referring; it said, “Bring more shoes. Shoes. Get thoes (sic) niggers off the bus buy (sic) Friday.”

This is Essence Miller’s first year at LCMS; she moved here with her mother from Bowling Green over the summer. Until the bus incident, Miller said that she liked LCMS. “The teachers were nice,” she said, but since then things have gone from bad to worse. Her aunt, Susan Miller concurs, “Until Feb. 15 we’ve never, ever had a racial issue in this school. Now it is horrible what these kids have had to endure.”
“One boy hung a string in front of my face and said, ‘I really like you and I’m sorry it has to end this way.’ He meant he was going to hang me,” she said. She has overheard conversations about slaves and heard one student tell another, “Nigger means trash,” she said. Susan Miller said that the girls have heard comments about lynchings and stories about bridges in Waynesburg where lynchings are said to have occurred.

Essence Miller said that things were just getting worse, but it wasn’t until the signs were discovered on March 24 that her mother, Lolita Miller, contacted the NAACP for assistance. Lolita Miller said that the NAACP has offered assistance in the case and Susan Miller said that she has been contacted by the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights that suggested the FBI be involved which was the first mention of law enforcement involvement in the case. Sheriff Curt Folger said that neither he nor the deputy assigned as the School Resource Officer was contacted about the note.

Superintendent Karen Hatter said that LCMS Principal Debbie Sims has made no progress in her investigation as to who posted the two notes, but that she is planning a proactive response. The investigation to the bus incident revealed that the district has no routine training on diversity issues for employees and Hatter has committed to initiating diversity training in the 2011-12 school year. Susan Miller is skeptical. “You can’t train common sense,” she said.

Hatter has also contacted Centre College Assistant Vice President for Diversity Education J. H. Atkins to host a community meeting on April 15 to open a dialogue about diversity in the school district, and has invited those involved in the LCMS tumult to attend. “We don’t have a plan in place yet, but my main concern is that we don’t want discrimination to happen to them or anyone.”

The girls involved in the case are still in school, but the friction of the last several weeks has taken its toll. Susan Miller said she received over 40 text messages last weekend from her daughter, Kanesha, who was participating in a class trip to Chicago, all of them regarding her safety. One of them simply read, “I am safe and on the bus.” “No child should have to live that way,” Miller said.

The girls received a letter of apology from Grimes that read, “I should have never allowed adult issues to make you or any other student feel inferior or unworthy,” but it hasn’t buoyed the girls’ spirits. Lolita Miller said that her daughter wants to return to Bowling Green which is far more diverse than Lincoln County, but that they are going to stick it out here. “They are getting use to it. There are no more tears,” she said.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The bad judgment starts with the school personnel rewarding the children with food and goes downhill from there. The major medical organizations advise not using food as a reward but it's a common practice in our schools despite an epidemic of childhood obesity. It's sad to see these children treated with disrespect in so many ways.