The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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November 15, 2012

BOE hears parent complaint about racial slurs

The parent of an Independence High School student appeared before the Raleigh County Board of Education Tuesday and expressed concerns over racial slurs being directed toward and used around her son at the Sophia school.

Mary Alice Davis Heath, mother of an Independence High School ninth-grader, explained that she wanted to bring this rhetoric to the board’s attention “to be a part of the solution,” and volunteered to help with diversity training in school.

Heath said her son, who is a large football player, can stomach being called things like “The Blind Side” and “gorilla,” but neither she or her son can stomach “the N-word.”

She also shared a print-out of a “comic” that students have circulated in the school after the election that has a picture of President Barack Obama with racial slogans printed on it.

“I have talked with the principal (Chris Perkins) and the teachers there and we have worked things out, but there have been several incidents that have happened that have been very difficult for me to explain to my child. When I was going to school in the ’70s, we kind of expected it, but now it’s 2012,” she said.

Heath explained that her concern over her son’s experience is compounded by her own experience at Woodrow Wilson High School in the ’70s.

“It was not a good experience. It was a sign of the times and I ended up quitting school under the pressure of racism and prejudice” but later went into the military and finished her education, she said.

“I love West Virginia and I’m glad I brought my son back here, but I want to try to bring this problem to light. I don’t want to complain about these children; I realize that they are the result of their environment,” she added.

Board President Richard Snuffer agreed that he also can’t place blame solely on the students, “because I know their parents probably gave them this (Obama comic). Prejudice goes back generation after generation and it is sad for West Virginia. As a school we have zero tolerance for it. Students are not going to be bullied in any way in our schools.”

Superintendent James Brown said he was glad to hear the school’s administration has responded to the incidents, “but the reality is that those responses are punitive and the damage has already been done. Those are hurtful words.”

He said the central office administration has discussed bringing a program about diversity called Challenge Day into all four of the county’s high schools.

He said the program addresses the many different types of diversity, including being a child from a one-parent home and physical diversities.

“It goes back to teaching about diversity and understanding. We know we have to teach more than just reading, writing and math. Sometimes we have to teach social graces and understanding when those things have not been taught at home.”

The entire board thanked Heath for her willingness to come forward with this issue and assured her they would work toward quickly dealing with issues as they occur as well as coming up with solutions to prevent them.

— E-mail: splummer@register-herald.com

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