The male teens chanting the N-word and cursing the NAACP in a racist video — which prompted a local civil rights leader and the superintendent to conduct successive news conferences Monday — are students of Phenix City Schools.
The Rev. Alfonza Seldon, president of the Phenix City/Russell County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, called for Phenix City Schools superintendent Randy Wilkes to disclose the disciplinary action to show that the school system doesn’t condone such behavior.
Wilkes confirmed the five males in the video he saw Friday were students at Central High School or Central Freshman Academy, although one of the students might have withdrawn by now, he said. But the school system can’t punish the students because the video wasn’t recorded on its property and “appears to have no affiliation with our school system,” Wilkes said, so no PCS policy applies.
Asked whether the video would fall under the PCS cyber-bullying policy, Wilkes said, “I don’t see that association.”
Nonetheless, the superintendent called the video “terribly offensive. ... It’s not something that we tolerate within our school system.”
The shaky, 32-second video, recorded in a moving vehicle, shows the teens chanting the spelling of the N-word, shouting the N-word and singing a song that includes this line: “To hell with the NAACP.”
If the video was recorded on campus, Wilkes said, “we probably would have started with a hearing and most likely would have resulted in at least suspension and worse.”
Seldon, pastor of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Phenix City, noted that such behavior can “trickle back” onto school property.
“A lot of the things we see on the national news today, the hate crimes, the killings ... it derives, I believe, from things such as this not being immediately addressed,” Seldon said.
PCS did take immediate action Friday when it learned about the video, Wilkes said. After the Central High and Central Freshman Academy principals used the video to identify the teens as Phenix City students, Wilkes said, they met with the students’ parents. Wilkes declined to disclose the details of those conversations.
Seldon said somebody, whose name he wouldn’t disclose, on Friday sent him the video that was posted on the messaging app Snapchat. He met with a Central High assistant principal and Wilkes that day to express his concern. Then he conducted Monday’s news conference in front of the Phenix City Board of Education headquarters, Seldon said, to help the public understand that concern.
“We are here to serve notice that this type of behavior will not be tolerated,” Seldon said. “If we continue to sweep these habits under the rug, change cannot come, change cannot happen. We cannot continue to make light of this learned behavior and write it off with a slap on the wrist as our response. By no means should a student’s actions be minimized or go unaddressed.”
Seldon called for a “multi-tiered discipline approach that includes measures beyond suspensions,” such as “sensitivity and diversity for all students, faculty and staff, as well as made available to parents, community stakeholders and also representatives of the NAACP.”
Wilkes, who conducted his news conference in the board room, said PCS already has sensitivity training as part of its daily character education.
“This will certainly be an opportunity to further that discussion,” Wilkes said.
Asked whether the students in the video will receive extra sensitivity training, Wilkes said, “That’s something we’re working with the parents individually on.”
“If so,” Seldon said, “we are requesting that the curriculum and/or content be made available. These transparencies are what merge and bridge the gap between the Board of Education and the community.”
Seldon also said the NAACP chapter is preparing a meeting for parents to “discuss and emphasize the importance of a safe environment for our children around their peers.”
This controversy arose the same month the Ledger-Enquirer reported the suspension of a Central High teacher who asked her students an offensive test question about “deadbeat dads.”