High school feels tension over race Rumors, incidents put ++ state police on alert last week

'I think the crisis is over'

Twenty whites wore provocative T-shirts, had Confederate flags

November 21, 1995|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

A series of racial incidents at South Carroll High put state police on alert last week and have left students and staff members uneasy at the Winfield school.

On Friday, about 20 white students came to school waving Confederate flags from their pickup trucks or wearing T-shirts with the flag and the words, "You wear your X, I'll wear mine," referring to Malcolm X and the crossed bars of the Confederate flag. About 25 of South Carroll's 1,338 students are black.

"I think the crisis is over," said Principal David Booz, as he watched over a peaceful, convivial lunch yesterday. "It doesn't mean the underlying problems have gone away, because they haven't."

Rumors surfaced Friday that some students might have weapons, and school administrators called state police, who spent part of the day in the school parking lot and came back to monitor dismissal.

No weapons were found. No fights erupted. But several students were disciplined, Mr. Booz said. The students wearing the provocative T-shirts were made to turn them inside out or take them off, he said. He declined to say whether any students were suspended, because it could identify them, he said.

"They thought there might be some kind of riot situation," said Sgt. Brenda K. Tharp. "We were called as a precautionary measure."

Mr. Booz's plan includes meeting with parents of the students, counseling the students and strictly enforcing school rules.

"The long-term effort will be to try to help everyone get along better, and that's still in the planning stages," he said. He said he is unsure whether there might be a schoolwide approach, or one that focuses on the students involved in the incidents. He said he will get help from school system counselors and some outside agencies.

Last week, some white and black students had verbal confrontations, during which the whites used a racial epithet or shouted "white power," said Tyrise Rice, a black student who is president of the sophomore class.

"Most of the people at South Carroll are not racist," Tyrise said after school yesterday. "It was a nice day. It was totally opposite from Friday."

A series of unrelated incidents over the past few weeks brought racial tensions to the surface at South Carroll, Mr. Booz said. But he said he knew of no specific disputes at the root of the problems.

"If there were, it would be easier" to deal with the problems, he said. Students are bringing up vague complaints such as "she stared at me," he said.

But Tyrise said there have been specific incidents, such as the black freshman who found an epithet written on her locker. She said there have been cases since last year in which students wore Confederate flags on clothing.

Teachers and administrators have been supportive, she said, but "they should have been more aggressive and acted sooner."

She said bad feelings remain from an insensitive comment made by a white student three years ago, after four black students died in an auto accident.

That school year, 1992-1993, was a tough one for South Carroll because of a series of crises. A student was raped. A teacher became ill, after a student laced his coffee with bleach.

And a family dispute over a biracial couple erupted into a fight at a miniature golf range in Mount Airy, and spilled into the school one day at lunch that year.

Mr. Booz said he doesn't think the current tension is connected to those disputes. "We had two extremely nice years, and if there was a connection, it would be otherwise," he said.

Tyrise said she hadn't even heard about some of the recent incidents until Friday morning, when she joined other black students in the principal's office to report the flag-waving and shirts.

"I am dedicated to my school," she said. "I love South Carroll High School, but when I heard all those stories, I cried."

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