Parents discuss racial worries; Tensions are rising among students at Arundel school


Troubled by what has been called "a climate of intolerance," an angry group of black parents in southern Anne Arundel County called school board officials to a community meeting last night to address reports of racial slurs directed at their children and public references to lynching at Southern High School in Harwood.

Les Stanton, school board human relations specialist, attended the meeting at Carter United Methodist Church in Friendship, which was attended by about 50 parents and students.

The parents said they were worried by accounts they have heard from their children:

That the Confederate flag was painted on the water tower behind the school.

That "KKK" and racial epithets were scrawled on a locker and carved on a wall and remained there for days.

That black students are disciplined and suspended more often than whites for minor offenses.

That a white student sang a song about lynching during a Multicultural Day assembly.

"There was just a climate of intolerance," said Vincent Leggett, a former school board member from south county. He said he heard about the incidents and parents' concerns Sunday.

Tensions, which parents say were present during the past school year, seemed to have reached a boiling point last week and nearly touched off fights when a black student was threatened by a group of white students.

According to students' accounts, the threatened student was suspended after the incident.

"I knew we must come together, because if we don't, we're not worth our salt," said Tina Brown, a parent. "We need to be accountable, too. I hope we can be there supporting our children."

According to students' accounts last night, racial incidents are commonplace and the principal largely ignored their complaints. They said white students have used racial slurs in and out of the classroom without reprimand and have threatened lynchings.

They also recounted an incident in which a note with a nickel attached to it was left on one of the cafeteria tables, which are routinely cleaned by black staff members. The note allegedly said the nickel was "a tip for the slaves."

Stanton told parents they should call school Principal Cliff Prince about their concerns. Prince was invited but did not attend the meeting.

"At this point, the administration is staying in very close touch with the principal," Stanton said.

Racial tensions have flared before in schools south of the South River. Two months ago, Superintendent Carol S. Parham, who is black, received a death threat including racial epithets that was linked with her plan to move pupils from mostly white Mayo Elementary to mostly black Annapolis Middle while a new elementary school was being built.

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