Schools moving to ease tensions

Racial allegations from students lead to 2 appointments

May 17, 2000|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

The day after a community meeting called by a group of parents concerned about racial slurs directed at black students and public references to lynchings at Southern High School, the Anne Arundel County school board added two administrators to the school staff, a schools official said yesterday.

A math teacher from George Fox Middle School and a pupil personnel worker will begin working as administrators this week to help ease racial tensions at the Harwood school.

"They're going to be quasi-administrators to try to establish a rapport with some of the students who feel isolated," said Leslie Stanton, a school board human relations specialist.

He added that Lucille Salisbury, a community member who is a retired director of pupil services for the county schools, will also join the staff as a volunteer community liaison.

The changes occurred less than 24 hours after about 50 students and parents, most of them black, met with Stanton at a church in Friendship on Monday night.

The children at the meeting told Stanton that white students often hurled racial slurs at them in and outside the classroom, that "KKK" and other graffiti with racial epithets have been scrawled on lockers and walls in the school and left for days and that one white student sang a country song about lynching during a multicultural day assembly.

The students also said black children were suspended and reprimanded more often than whites and for lesser offenses. The students said Principal Cliff Prince, who is African-American, has been unresponsive.

Tensions peaked last week at the school, which is 14 percent African-American, when a black student was threatened by a group of white students, according to the children's accounts. A group of parents are planning a meeting with Prince, who has led the school for five years, but the meeting has not been scheduled.

"I was surprised the black kids have so many problems without the support of a black principal," said Lisa Smith, one of seven parents chosen to represent the community.

"The kids feel like if they say anything, they'll get suspended," Smith said yesterday.

At the two-hour meeting with Stanton, clergy and community leaders, the students said they were concerned that other students routinely wore shirts or other clothing emblazoned with the Confederate flag.

According to students' accounts, Prince failed to confront white students for offensive behavior. Staff members echoed the children's reports, saying the principal ignored their complaints to him.

Prince, who was invited to the meeting but did not attend, would not elaborate on the students' and staff reports yesterday.

"The system is dealing with it by not addressing the media," he said. "I don't think more media attention is going to bring this to a close."

A public schools spokeswoman asked media to stay away from the school and to "give Cliff a chance to do his job."

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