By Gregory Smith, Ahnayah Hughes and Airielle Lowe
WASHINGTON – Jessica Murray said her daughter is reluctant to be herself when she goes to class at Coosa High School in Rome, Georgia, because of racial taunts from white students.
“My child doesn’t want to wear her real hair, because kids have called her a monkey,” Murray said.
LeKisha Morgan, who has three children at the school, said her daughters have told her of similar incidents.
“My daughters have been called nappy-headed monkeys and other dark-skinned slurs,” Morgan said. “My daughters had to take their (Black Lives Matter) T-shirts off, because it caused a disruption but waving a confederate flag is not.”
Murray and Morgan are among the parents or six Black students who were suspended earlier this month from Coosa High School for planning a demonstration against white students who had paraded around the campus with a Confederate flag and reportedly shouted racial slurs
The Black students were suspended for five days after a heated discussion with the school principal that included white and Latino students, during which the students’ request to have a demonstration in response to the students with the Confederate flags was denied. The white and Latino students were not suspended.
The parents and the Rome-Floyd County NAACP branch said the suspensions are part of years of abuse and discrimination against Black students at the school.
School officials had not returned phone call requests for interviews Tuesday morning, but according to an article from Newsweek, Floyds County Schools Supt Glenn White said in a statement the incidents did happen at school and that disciplinary action had been taken. He did not, however, provide, any additional details.
He did not say if disciplinary action had been taken against the white students with the Confederate flags though parents of Black students said the students saw them in class the next day.
The NAACP officials, which included members of the Georgia and the Atlanta branches, met with the families Saturday to hear their complaints and discuss a strategy to address their grievances.
The students were suspended from Coosa High School Oct. 8 and their parents were given citations from school officials with the help of local police, parents said.
Barbara Pierce, vice president of the state branch, said Monday the school system’s response to the two incidents were obviously uneven and unfair.
“It’s a shame that the people who caused the protest were not suspended and neither were the white students who stood up for the Blacks,” Pierce said.
Pierce said she told the parents during their meeting Saturday they should work with the Floyd County School Board, because it had the ability to address their concerns.
In response, parents of the suspended students and other Black parents of children at the school attended the scheduled Floyd County School Board meeting Monday evening wearing T-shirts that had a Confederate flag on them covered with a large X, Murray said.
“We were silent and let our shirts do the talking,” she said.
Charles Love, a vice president with the local NAACP, said his organization had written to the school board more than six months ago and asked it to take action about racial tension at the predominantly white school.
“This is a symptom of something that happened back in March of this year,” he said. “White students were harassing Black students with intimidating words and slurs that bordered on racial harassment.
“Among the intimidation and use of the n-word, there was an allegation back in March that some students were mocking and reenacting the killing of George Floyd. There’s been a whole lot of stuff going on that is unacceptable in the school environment.”
The NAACP’s letter asked school system to address numerous issues regarding racially motivated harassment in the district, but got no response, he said.
Love said that the harassment was heightened two weeks ago during the school’s homecoming week when students ran across campus with the Confederate flag.
“The students’ parents went to the school administration to voice their concerns, but to our understanding not much was done,” he said.
As news of the suspension spread, the school board sent a letter over the weekend to the NAACP offering to sit down with the organization and concerned parents to discuss how to move forward, but the board did not offer a date for a meeting, Love said.
“Our main concerns are getting rid of the racial atmosphere and intimidation in the school, as well as addressing the racial disparities in school suspensions,” he said. “We’re really hoping that this will translate into some kind of policy.”
Sensitivity training for the school staff would be part of the restructuring, he said.
At the 2000 census about 34,000 people lived in Rome and 63% of residents were white and 28% were Black. The poverty rate for African Americans was nearly double that for whites
According to Floyd County school data from 2020, Love said, Black students held the highest suspension rate of all students in the school system at 8 percent, twice the rate of white students.
Murray said she received a text the morning of Oct. 7 that said white students were shouting racial slurs and walking around campus with a Confederate flag. That text and previous events caused her to pick up her daughter early, she said.
While taking her daughter home, Murray said, she noticed a police car behind her at a traffic light. As she made a right turn, she said, the light on the patrol car flickered on She said she asked why she was stopped, and the police officer told her it was for a traffic violation.
After she told the officer that her turning signal was on, he interrupted her, she said, and told her school officials were on the way to serve her daughter a five-day suspension letter, and she was banned from the high school.
“He held me there until school officials came,” Murray said. “I never received a ticket, written warning or anything,”
Murray said that her daughter was suspended Thursday before the protest was scheduled to take place.
“How do you get suspended before the protest?” she asked.
Murray said, she joined her daughter and others the following day in a peaceful protest off school grounds.
“We peacefully protested across the street from the school,” she said. “There were different races and even an 80-year-old lady in a wheelchair attended.”
In the past, Murray said, she has received calls from the high school complaining her daughter was causing a distraction by wearing clothing that said, “Black Lives Matter.”
“Last year, the school called me three times while I was at work about my daughter wearing a George Floyd shirt,” she said. “She was forced to take it off. White kids walk around with the Confederate flags on their shirts, and it’s not a disruption.”
Morgan said police officers escorted the principal to her house to issue suspension letters to her daughters.
“I have two 18-foot, full grown pine trees in front of my property that have ‘No Trespassing’ signs, but they showed up to my doorsteps anyway,” Morgan said.
She said her daughters have been called racial slurs for three years, and the administration does nothing about it. Morgan said she has told her daughters how to deal the abuse the best way she knows how.
“I tell them that they can’t fight, and that they must tell their teachers, but that doesn’t work,” she said. “The white kids just try to get a reaction out of them.”
Parent Nico Woods’ daughter does not attend the high school. She is an elementary school student, Woods said. Still, she has already heard white students refer to Black students using the ‘n-word,’ Woods said. “My main two points that I want the school board to know is that kids should be treated equally, and the flag should be banned.” he said.