South Carroll's racial crisis Adults need to create a climate of mutual respect and toleration.

November 23, 1995

RACIAL TENSIONS among South Carroll High School students almost reached the boiling point, but adults stepped in and cooled things down. The underlying reasons that prompted two dozen white students to come to school last Friday waving Confederate battle flags and wearing T-shirts bearing the slogan,"You wear your X, and I'll wear mine," still exist.

To his credit, principal David Booz recognizes the volatile conditions at South Carroll and wants to deal with them, but he can't solve this problem alone. Parents and the community have to assist his efforts.

The actions of the white students were deliberately provocative. Friction between a small number of white youths and the school's small group of black students -- about 25 out of 1,338 -- apparently has been building for several weeks. Students have exchanged nasty words and racial epithets appeared on a locker. By themselves, these are relatively minor incidents. But it appears that a few hot-heads decided to exacerbate the touchy situation.

Fortunately, none of the black students rose to the bait. School administrators quickly took control of the situation, disciplining the provocateurs and forcing students with irritating T-shirts to remove them or turn them inside out. State troopers helped maintain the calm and monitored the parking lot once school was dismissed.

In every high school, there are a few bullies who like to pick fights and disrupt classes and activities. Clearly, the ringleaders who decided to wave the Stars and Bars knew they would get people agitated. Those kids can be isolated, counseled and disciplined.

The next step will be the most difficult. School officials have to confront the underlying racial animosity that exists in the school. Apparently the atmosphere is such that students feel no fear in brazenly harassing minority students. Students, teachers and staff need to talk frankly about creating a climate of tolerance and mutual respect that would discourage future offensive displays.

Carroll's civic and political leaders should add their voices to this effort. If racial hatred is ignored or even tolerated, it quickly can transform itself from a sore to a cancer. It is in the community's interest to eradicate this disease.

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