A racial slur on social media. False rumors of a possible shooting. A fight at school.
The past week has been full of disturbing distractions for the students and staff at Northside High School.
Those interviewed Thursday say their school is being misrepresented. In fact, they say, the positive response to the negative series of events shows their school loyalty. They are living up to their Patriots nickname.
Northside principal James Wilson praised students for alerting him about the photo of a group of black students and the offensive caption posted on Twitter that sparked the controversy last week. Wilson said the student who sent the Tweet “is no longer a student at Northside” but couldn’t comment further about the disciplinary action.
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“I know this has bothered our kids,” Wilson said. “We have great kids, and they’re resolved to do the right thing. They let us handle the situation, and we did.”
Northside is one of Muscogee County’s most racially balanced schools. Its 1,450 students are 60 percent white, 27 percent black and 13 percent other races.
“We have a bunch of cliques like any other school, and what happened just boiled over,” said Northside senior James Young, 17, a student council member and football player.
The offensive Tweet came from a senior, Young said someone who was a friend but isn’t now, he added.
“It upsets me because, as seniors, we’re supposed to set an example,” he said. “We’re supposed to act more mature. People should have just ignored it, don’t take it personal.”
Christina Bonner, 17, is a senior volleyball player. She went on Twitter to celebrate Tuesday night’s victory that put her team in the state’s Elite Eight for the first time in school history. Instead, she scrolled through rumors of a possible shooting.
“It was being blown way out of proportion,” Bonner said.
Jaime Smith, 17, is senior class secretary and was on the homecoming court which comprised three blacks and two whites. A black student, Jamear Jackson, was crowned queen.
Smith doesn’t want a hateful comment from one student, and retweeted by others, to speak for her school.
“We have more leaders than that,” she said, adding that she hopes this will generate more positive activities from students.
Wilson and the students said there isn’t a racial problem at the school. He proudly noted the smooth transition Northside made four years ago, when the school absorbed 230 students from Carver, Jordan, Kendrick and Spencer high schools through No Child Left Behind transfers.
“Our kids opened their arms to them,” Wilson said. “And those parents continue to choose us. Does that sound like a school that has problems?”
Wilson said no link has been found between the Tweets and Tuesday’s fight at school between a black male and white male. He said it started with a dispute over a girl during the weekend.
According to a Columbus police report, officer Walter Haywood, who already was at Northside as the school’s security officer, was leaving the lunch room Tuesday around 12:50 p.m. when he saw several students gathered in the hallway by the attendance window. He heard on his radio that two students were involved in a fight. He made his way through the crowd and observed a white male and a black male “in a physical altercation.”
Wilson described the origin of the offensive Tweet this way:
It was posted on a Northside student’s Twitter account the evening of Oct. 17 and included a photo taken that day of a group of Northside black students attending the senior class retreat at Pratt & Whitney, a Partner in Education with the school. The photo was accompanied by a racial slur.
After it was retweeted that night, a Northside student showed it to an assistant principal the next morning. The offending student was called into the office, his parents were called and discipline was taken, Wilson said.
Then on Tuesday night, a threatening Tweet was posted on an account called “Northside probz.”
“It said that there’s going to be a shooting,” Wilson said, “but it didn’t say here or anywhere.”
The online rumors of violence prompted about 100 Northside students to check out early Wednesday and additional police officers to be sent to the school, Wilson said. A recorded message was telephoned home to parents, explaining the situation and the school’s response. Thursday, he said, the school was back to normal.
“I know they’re still investigating it,” Wilson said. “I’m not sure they know who it was.”
Wilson said he addressed the students during Thursday morning’s announcements and told them, “I know the Tweet was very offensive to you, and it was to me as well. I am proud of you and how you’ve handled this.”
During his six years as principal at Northside, Wilson said, this is the school’s first racial issue.
“This was one kid out of 1,450 students,” he said, “one that did something that’s not condoned here or at any school in the district. We’ll continue to talk to our kids and educate our kids about making the right choices.”