Racial incidents trouble high school

Police seek suspects in graffiti death threat in Anne Arundel County

April 12, 2003|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

A series of racial disturbances at South River High School has prompted Anne Arundel County school officials to suspend more than a dozen students during the past year and provide sensitivity training schoolwide, school system officials said at a briefing yesterday.

Two recent incidents involving graffiti prompted county police to investigate several students and offer a $500 reward for information leading to arrests and convictions, officials said.

In the first incident, in the middle of last month, someone spray-painted graffiti on a school stairwell threatening the lives of black students.

The second incident, which occurred last weekend, involved racist graffiti on an exterior wall.

Officials at the predominantly white school in Edgewater said there also have been incidents targeting Jews, gays and several ethnic and religious groups.

Superintendent Eric J. Smith said yesterday he wants to send a clear message to students and the community.

"It is not and will not be tolerated to have students disrespect one another, to use racial slurs against one another," Smith said at the briefing. "Our disciplinary response will be consistent and will be very, very firm."

After the graffiti incident last month, a team of administrators was dispatched to the school to investigate and provide counseling to students.

Since then, security has been stepped up and teachers have led students through exercises stressing respect and anti-harassment.

Principal James Hamilton said the problem "has to be struck at quickly."

He said conditions have improved since the start of the year, when several students came to school wearing clothes decorated with the Confederate flag, sparking two fights.

In the months after, there were many incidents of harassment and the use of racial slurs. In all, 16 students -- 12 of them girls -- have been suspended, and three boys have withdrawn from the school or been expelled.

"It's one of those teachable moments," Hamilton said of the situation. "We have to grab this opportunity and say we collectively do not agree with this."

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