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Minority parents air concerns about climate at HCHS

South Boston News
The crowd gathered for Monday night's meeting of the Halifax County School Board. (Contributed photo) / February 12, 2019
Parents of black and minority students at Halifax County High School appeared before the School Board on Monday night to decry recent acts of abuse, bullying and racism aimed at their children and toward a parent herself.

The remarks by the speakers, backed up by leaders of the black community who turned out for Monday’s board meeting, painted the picture of an ugly environment at the high school that has drawn little pushback by the administration, speakers said.

“There’s always been issues but it’s gotten bolder. They’ve never gotten any repercussions and the problem is getting worse,” said Kristy Tucker after providing her account to trustees. Tucker, a Scottsburg resident and volunteer for school activities and county recreational programs, has two children — a ninth grader and 11th grader — at HCHS.

School trustees listened intently as one parent, Bernita Logan Lee, described an incident at a Comet basketball game last week in which she said she was kicked from behind by a student who then walked away and took cover among the “Comet Crazies,” the boisterous student cheering section.

Lee said she was sitting across the aisle from the Crazies when a student who she thinks attends the middle school came over to kick a flower arrangement belonging to her daughter. He kicked her in the back, too.

Lee said when she sought out Principal Michael Lewis to tell him about the incident, Lewis asked her to point out the offending student. The response that followed from Lewis, she continued, showed “no concerns whatsoever” for her well-being or for the need to enforce discipline at the school.

When Lee identified the student — she said she recognized him by the gray sweatshirt he was wearing, along with a red hat he had handed off to someone else — Lewis asked, “This lady said you kicked her. Why did you kick her?”

When the student denied the allegation, Lee continued, Lewis let the matter drop. “I saw him clearly,” Lee recounted. She said she told the student, “Do you have a twin that looks like you? Because I saw you run through the crowd.”

When Lewis let his denial go by unchallenged, Lee said, “ I felt hurt. You are the principal of the school. I still have respect for him [Lewis]. But it’s limited now.

“When things are wrong, they’re wrong. They need to be corrected. They need to be corrected now.”

She added, “Just a simple apology that night would have gone a long way.”

Another HCHS parent, Shawn Barksdale, told trustees about a separate incident last week in which his daughter, a junior cheerleader, was the target of a racist slur by a group of white students.

The incident happened after school, on the HCHS campus, as the cheerleading squad was holding practice. Barksdale said a group of white students drove by in a car and one yelled out the insult, calling his daughter a “monkey” as she was practicing a dance routine.

When confronted about the slur, Barksdale continued, the students tried to pass off it as innocuous: “We didn’t say you were a monkey, we said you were dancing around like a monkey.”

Either way, such a bigoted remark is “unacceptable,” Barksdale said.

While Barksdale said he blamed prejudiced attitudes at school on what students pick up at home, he added that it’s unacceptable for the administration to let such conduct fester: “It’s a constant, but we have to have a real dialogue among leadership.

“For me as a parent, at the end of the day it’s about protecting my children,” Barksdale said.

Several speakers raised the concern that tensions could spill over into violence if administrators and teachers don’t do more to address the problem.

Ebony Guy, who also has a child in ninth grade at HCHS, said she has spoken with numerous students and parents about the climate at HCHS, hearing in return their concerns about possible retaliation if they speak out.

Guy, granddaughter of late local civil rights activist Cora Tucker, said she was willing to take part in any effort at HCHS to “discuss immediate, long term solutions to address privilege, bias, history, race relations and respect for individual identity.”

With the “full understanding that our educators are overworked and underpaid,” Guy called on administrators and teachers to act: “The underlying tone of these conversations made one thing very clear: the fear of an escalating crisis is present.”

Also speaking Monday night in support of the parents were Halifax County-South Boston NAACP President Barbara Coleman Brown and Avon Keene of Danville, president of the area chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Kristy Tucker said that as a former graduate of Halifax County High School, it’s painful to see conditions there becoming so bad. “I grew up here. I don’t want to see Halifax County labeled as ‘that hick town with all that racism,’” she said. “It’s sad to see it get to that point.”

Another parent, Dana Word of Nathalie, said she, too, has heard derogatory comments from the Comet Crazies section at basketball games, and met a similar passive response from school administrators.

She called on educators to take responsibility for abusive conduct at the school and “come and support the children as they grow.

“I don’t think I should be talked to the way I was,” said Ward, who added that the insults have discouraged her from taking part in the school life of her children.

Speakers generally agreed that the problems have been worst during basketball season, and that HCHS is a different place than when they went through the school many years ago.

“It’s completely different,” said Lee, the HCHS mom who got kicked in the back at last week’s ballgame against Park View. When she was a student two decades ago at HCHS, “we had a principal, Mr. Larry Clark, who didn’t tolerate [misconduct] there.”

In comments after the board meeting, Lee, a pediatric nurse, also said the spirit behind the Comet Crazies has gotten out of hand: other schools have student cheering sections at ballgames, but “you don’t see other kids being crude, saying ‘you suck’ to the other team.”

Nor was she was necessarily saying the student who kicked her was motivated by racism, Lee added: “I think it was more the kid being a jerk.”

School Board Chairman Joe Gasperini and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Mark Linenburg told the speakers that their comments are welcome and promised to address their concerns. “I believe dialogue is action,” said Lineburg.

He pivoted to recent measures that the administration has taken to address security issues at the high school, including shutting off access through the 55 doors that lead into the HCHS building. All the doors have been secured, Lineburg said, and the school is making greater use of metal detectors to stop weapons from entering the building.

School security is “a universal thing” that all members of the community can agree on, he added.

Gasperini chimed in that members of the School Board would take the concerns to school building administrators and discuss possible responses, with some of those conversations taking place among trustees in closed session.

“We do listen to you and we are making quite a few positive changes in our schools,” said Gasperini.

The meeting took place at Halifax County Middle School as part of trustees' efforts to spotlight activities at each of the county schools.

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In order to fix the problems of discipline, the administrators need to be walking the halls and the gym during class changes or activities. When your son or daughter is afraid during school or an event, then the learning environment is at risk. That seems to be what I hear, NO DISIPLINE. I admired Larry Clark for the ship he ran and Dr. Venable before Mr. Clark. And don't tell me times have changed. Please, alittle help from the top!


Maybe the parents need to be parents and raise the children correctly.
To many of them have children just to get more free money and expect the schools and "system" to take care of them


RAISE THEM!!!!!!!!!!


Racial tension at a school were the Confederate Flag is allowed to be flown in the student parking lot and adorns almost every other student's shirt or jacket? Color me shocked! I applaud the parents and students bringing attention to this matter, but I say to those who spoke, remember you are bringing the matter to a school board leader who prominently displayed the largest Trump sign, someone who has emboldened racists, in his yard in the whole of Halifax County. The student that kicked Mrs. Lee in the back is the son of a teacher at the high school and his mother is a leader in the community who is charged with making Halifax County Great Again. It does start at home but in Halifax County too many of those homes send students to school with attitudes prevalently displayed in this article.


This is a issue in all schools! I've had my child in 4th grade Attending Cluster Springs Elem been called a n**** I was never aware of the issue until later my child came home telling me that the child was suspended for two days. Had another student told him that he would bring a gun to school and shoot him and also get his dad to come to school and shoot my child!! There nothing being done but two day suspension or a talking to at this age! Words like that are taught; hatered is taught!!! Things like this is brushed under the rug. Need a solution to the issue fast!!!


Address the offender not socialized punishment Blacks contain racists too. When will we address the lack of Asians in the NBA? This is injustice. But this effort to decry racism and use the term against groups of people with different skin melatonin is wrong. I went to a school 50% white and black. Black gangs jumping white kids in the hall. All are guity of sin. No more separation curriculmns of this history month and that history month. And for the liberals address your own racism iamong your party leaders.


You cannot outlaw speech and images you don’t like. I see a political agenda here at work to help cover up te recent Richmond failures of northam and fairfax. Special priveledge? Seriously? Racism nd bigotry stem from the heart. We are a society that mandates identification by skin color. We are led to elieve that there are only whites and all others. You cannot legislate morality and intelligence. I see people blaming oters for their lack of success. You are responsible for your future. Take rsponsibility


The promotion of ignorance and conditioning the Liberals have fomented is just amazing. The title of this article also creates a crutch and division among this need to identify by skin color. Yes Halifax suffers from no shortage of bigots of many different skin tones. The Liberal ideology has resulted in promoting a mindset of disadvtaged and other excuses for achieving success. Escape the balming mentality that the liberal dogma promotes. Where is teh outrage that Margaret Sanger promoted killing black babies. Ms Sanger was a liberal. The KKK was created by Dems. Waje up and teahc your children to seek success not escapism crutches. Their is a lot of hate out here and it can only be solved by repentance. Heck Churches dont even work together out here...


Promotion of ignorance and conditioning by liberals? The states with the lowest achieving students in the nation are bastions of Conservative hedonism and those same students grow up to be adults that vote against their own interest. The KKK started by Democrats? Research the "Southern Strategy." Throw in "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" and you have all of the talking points to solve nothing. You for sure have the mentality of a tried and true Halifax County resident.


Here we go blaming Trump. He has said nothing racist whatsoever. You libs twist his words - you all feed off of calling someone a racists/bigot.

I have been a teacher in this school system for a very long time. never once have I seen any evidence of teachers or the administration applying discipline unequally based on race. Not in the classroom and not at the admin level. It simply does not exist.

Why is the incident of the lady being kicked at the bball game a racist act? Any evidence of that? Doubt it....

And the N word is used all the time in the middle and high schools - I have heard it to many times to even begin to count - thing is it is uttered by black students 99.9% of the time. That is a fact.


Well the socialist are out in force. They want to ban free speech and any symbol they dislike. How about getting your kids to pull their pants up. I am tired of seeing underwear! No where in the constitution does it say you have the right not to be offended. I am so sick of people saying that are the agitators then turn it around and claim to be the victims. You need to raise your kids! If you are offended by a Confederate flag or some words then you need to grow up and get a life.


Aren't the socialist always out in Halifax County. You know the ones dependent on SOCIAL Security, Medicare, and the local farmers who recently received huge welfare checks. They don't fit your stereotype, so you're probably not talking about THOSE individuals. You can be offended by seeing underwear but others can't be offended at seeing items and symbols synonymous with oppression and hatred. How dare those parents and students point out racism to racist and turning those poor racists into sufferers of reverse racism. Poor victims. It would be nice to share the privilege you so proudly flaunt.


I am all for equality, suspend ALL students that use the N word. If it is offense for one race to use, then it is offensive for all races to use. Additionally, if a slur is used against a member of the LGBT community, those individuals should be suspended as well. What about students who are referred to as "rednecks" isn't that a derogatory name as well? It carries a negative connotation to it.


If we ever have an honest discussion of race relations without claiming all white people are racist, then we need to place ALL cards on the table. see how eager the speakers were to call all the white people racists and even teachers and yet offer ZERO evidence. Black people are bigots and racists just like anyopne else. You'll get NO pity from me for throwing out bogus race charges.People elected Obama only because of his skin color. That's not achievement that's set back. I see a local black group intent on ratcheting up the race baiting without realizing the repercussions it may have on the local community.


True that all White people are not racist, but in making that argument you make the assertion that everyone else is, and I quote, “ Black people are bigots and racist just like everyone else. There’s that victimhood again I guess. Black people make up 13 percent of the population. For Obama to be elected many of those none racist Whites had to vote for him as well. That’s probably credit that you don’t want to take. Here is card. You mimimize a Black man, who had to be perfect in everyway, to his color. Yet there is an unqualified three time divorcee, with multiple kids with mutiple women, in the oval office. What should he be minimized to?


ok Halifax great again- I didn't say ALL black people. read first then respond. Obama had zero qualifications of previous success unless community organizer and business shakedown artist like Jackson and Sharpton is a credible quality. The moment any one tries to criticize Obama based upon his lack of experience the racism card is thrown. I won't be silenced by this card and will challenge you every step of the way to put evidence to your claims. Here is an inconvenient fact- the biggest threat to black people is other black people. Stop subscribing to the victim game.


Apologies for quoting what you said in an effort to show what you said. I didn’t play the race card you did, and I quote, “People elected Obama only because of his skin color.” Or am I misquoting you again? You are theoretically correct with your threat argument. However, the same inconvenient truth is applicable to the biggest threat to white people being the biggest threat to other white people, The biggest threat to Hispanic individuals are other Hispanics. You harm, in most cases, those with the closest proximity and/or those in your neighborhood. We are still a tad bit segrated when it comes to communities, but I guess that’s playing the race card.. So to your what about black on black crime dog whistle, I retort with what about white on white crime... etc. Stop playing the victim to partial information.


Mkaing halifax great- the race card was thrown ayt the school board meetng. The statement that teachers are racist was showing the extent of the ignorance. On the topic of violence- one word - Chicago. Obama was the least qualified President on record. The nation of idiots elected a man for the color of his skin not his abilities. Trump doesnt take a salary as Presdent. Let that sink in. He employs thousands of Americans and I am quite sure a good bit are represenattives of most tribes of the earth. This race card is thrown out to shut people up. It doesn’t work any more. You are running out of excuses .


I am so sick of hearing about racism! We all live in the same country where we have the same rights. Some people choose to take advantage of the freedoms we have and some choose to sit around, look for handouts and blame others when they don’t get what they want. As an involved parent in the school system, I can tell you that white children receive equal, if not harsher, punishment because the administrators are afraid of being blamed for discrimination. They’re afraid of being called racists.
Nowadays, white people suffer from reverse discrimination. Can you imagine what would be said if we had a WET- White Entertainment Television? Or how much “stink” would be raised if we had a United White Person College Fund? Even better, what if we had a White History Month? It’s a double standard! You see, black people can have these privileges and it’s called acceptance or progressive whereas if white people had them, it would be segregation, discrimination or hatred.


This "great" country of ours has been divided for over 150 years. We are divided by political groups, race, economic status, religion, sexual orientation and each one of these groups has a strong negative impression of the others. None of this will ever go away and I am not saying that it needs to be ignored or forgotten, I am saying that we need to be educated and mindful that even though I have thoughts and opinions, others may not share them and that is okay. I may find something to be offensive, but someone else might find it to be acceptable. We are now becoming a nation of over sensitive individuals. Everybody gets in such an uproar about having their feelings hurt, that we look for all of these corrective actions that need to be implemented, but in doing so we are going to have so little freedoms because anyone can find something to be offended by.I do not condone racism or any type of discrimination. I tell my kids to treat others as you would want to be treated.

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