Editorials

School district about to receive very expensive lesson on racial sensitivity

Racial slur brings lawsuit against local school district

Parents at Joseph Arthur Middle School in O'Fallon have filed a lawsuit after not receiving what they believe to be an authentic apology from the district after a teacher allegedly referred to two mixed-races students as "Slave No. 1" and "Slave N
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Parents at Joseph Arthur Middle School in O'Fallon have filed a lawsuit after not receiving what they believe to be an authentic apology from the district after a teacher allegedly referred to two mixed-races students as "Slave No. 1" and "Slave N

Students have been doing errands for teachers for as long as there have been teachers and pupils — clapping erasers together, taking a note to the office, finding the janitor. You can even imagine those errands bordering on the personal, making an ice run. And you can imagine pet names for students.

What is harder to imagine is the term “slave” being applied as an endearment to a child whose ancestors might have been subjected to forced labor.

But let’s assume it was innocently, although naively, applied. After the hurt to the child became apparent, shouldn’t the priority be to make the child whole?

Parents Theophilus Afogho and Marcus Gregory described working within the system and going to a series of Central School District 104 board meetings to address the wrongs to their children and themselves after speaking out. There was finally a prepared statement read by the board president: “To the families, and particularly the children, we wish to extend sincere apologies. In no way do these remarks reflect the beliefs of this district.”

But they said it rang hollow, and was too little, too late. Ego, lawyers and racial insensitivity likely all played roles up to that point.

Now a year after the incident, there is a 67-page federal lawsuit by seven plaintiffs claiming a pattern of racial discrimination and retaliation in the school district. They detail 19 incidents. Lawyers will pick through actions, reactions and perceptions at very high hourly rates. Reputations will be damaged and money will flow.

And the irony is that Afogho said a sincere apology, early on, to the children would have ended it all. “We just wanted a simple apology, a simple admission of guilt,” he said.

But at a more basic level, if adults wrong a child, those adults teach by their example not only that child but all the children watching.

When you are in the education business, do you teach humility, remorse and compassion? Do you teach defensiveness, righteousness and arrogance?

If you don’t know the answer, a federal judge will soon deliver that lesson.

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