South Cobb High students protest ‘racist’ comments

A comment about lynching students, censorship of essays with racial themes, a threat to throw a Latino student over the president’s wall, and questions about whether their families are here legally.

These are among the list of alleged teacher comments that South Cobb High School’s students say they have brought to the administration’s attention.

South Cobb seniors Malik Freeman, Rin Faith, and Naomi Yaledah-Bashaar spoke with WSB Radio’s Veronica Waters, recalling a series of racially-offensive comments made by teachers in the past year.

“Our band director once said to his students in class, ‘Is it cotton-picking season?’” Freeman says.

“[A] teacher said to Hispanic students, ‘If you don’t get this question right, we’re going to throw you over the wall,’” Faith remembers.

Yaledah-Bashaar tells WSB a teacher once told a noisy classroom "that if we wouldn’t be quiet, he would have to hang us.”

All three students say this has tainted their love of their school and their trust in its administration and staffers. None feels safe in the place they spend hours every day, in a year that should be one of the best, they all say.

“I’ve never felt so unsafe in a school building, ever in my life,” says Yaledah-Bashaar. "I've always had respect for my teachers, I've always had love for the schools that I've been in, and I’ve always had a close connection to my teachers.

“But I no longer feel comfortable at South Cobb. I no longer feel safe. I no longer feel as though I'm welcomed or my opinions or values or me as a person is appreciated."

The trio says complaints have fallen on deaf ears. The teacher who made the lynching remark stood by his comment when Yaledah-Bashaar confronted him about it the next day. She taped the conversation, and shared part of it on Twitter. The instructor, who has since retired, insisted he was standing by his words because he "tells it like it is."

In a more recent incident, Faith says, a teacher assigned students to write about a controversial topic and present their essays in class. One student wrote about how most mass shootings in the U.S. are committed by white men. The teacher took offense, students say, accusing the author of not backing up his paper although he listed his proper citations, and began censoring the topics she allowed to be presented in class. One student was disciplined after questioning the teacher about her decision, the students tell WSB.

The students are lobbying for apologies, and action – including having that student's disciplinary record cleared.

Freeman, a student government board member, hopes that something positive will be done to resolve this before he graduates in May, and that the administration will listen to their grievances seriously.

"It's my senior year at South Cobb High School, and it's been my worst year," he says. "It's been their worst year. All because of what we've had to endure."

He says the administrators put the onus on students to do research on the allegations and then talk to their classmates about what was happening.

“We’re sick of always having slaps on the wrists," Freeman says. "We just want something to be done about it. Whether that's reprimanding the teacher, her losing her job, whether that's bring the board out here and let's have a forum. We just want something to be done."

Students and parents accuse the administration is turning a deaf ear to them after they put together a package of statements from students about the comments they have witnessed. Although they met with their local school board rep, a promised deadline to give them some resolution by the end of January has come and gone and they have heard nothing, the group says.

Only five students demonstrated Thursday afternoon. The students and parents present say most other parents were afraid of backlash targeting their kids, so they did not allow them to attend.

Faith says she understands the nervousness, but believes the stakes are high enough that she should protest publicly.

"We really just want to show people that you don't get to sweep this under the rug like you did everything else," she says.

Faith adds that the teachers who make racist, homophobic, or sexist comments should be disciplined or even fired, much like a student who says something considered inflammatory would be disciplined. "It's just sad to look around,” Faith says, adding, “You teach at a predominantly black and brown school. Are you really still thinking like that?

“Issues like this [are] what keep us from progressing as a whole, and everybody should be more concerned about coming together despite your adversities and differences, rather than separating us further.”

Several community members came out in support of the students.

Calli McGregor is a Cobb County parent who does not have kids at South Cobb, but who is frustrated that these students are being ignored and made to feel unvalued.

“These students have done their best to go through the proper channels and chain of command, to get some resolution [for] these issues and so far, they have not,” McGregor says. "I think they’re very, very brave young men and women and I just want to be here to support them.”

Asked what she feels the district should do, McGregor says, “Just respond to these students. Make them feel heard, make them feel supported.

“And above all else, make them feel safe. Make them feel like they can go to school without having to feel discriminated against and marginalized.”

Leroy Tre Hutchins is another Cobb County parent whose children attend different schools, but is alarmed over continued missteps and offenses by staffers.

“To hear this and to hear some of the things that the teachers have said to these students, I can’t imagine the type of post-traumatic stress disorder these children are gonna have as a result of the people that we’re supposed to trust with our kids every day,” Hutchins says.

He adds that he thinks it is imperative staffers at South Cobb High receive immediate training on “explicit and implicit bias.”

“For every school employee; every lunch lady, the resource officers, the substitute teachers, all the way to the superintendent’s office,” Hutchins concludes.

Friday afternoon, John Stafford, senior executive director of communications and events for South Cobb High, emailed the following statement to WSB:

“We take the claims of racial bias seriously, and the safety of our students is of paramount importance. All allegations are reviewed thoroughly and appropriate action taken, as necessary.”

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