School's racial tensions focus of meeting; Parents, staff may form community group; Harwood


Less than a month after racial tensions flared at Southern High School with parents questioning the actions of its principal, parents and community members are scheduled to meet again tomorrow in hopes of establishing a community group to deal with issues at the Harwood school.

Parents and residents are expected at the meeting set for 7 p.m. at Carter United Methodist Church in Friendship. School Principal Cliff Prince and other school district officials are also expected to attend.

"Hopefully, we'll establish a community group" from the meeting, said Patti Harvey, who helped organize the first meeting for parents three weeks ago. "A lot of parents are saying we need to support [Prince] more, but there are other issues in the school."

Prince was criticized by parents at the first meeting when students talked about racial slurs spoken to them and scrawled on walls and lockers in the school. Students also said at the meeting that Prince twice allowed a white student to sing a song about lynching during a multicultural day assembly, and that black students were being punished more often and for lesser offenses than white students.

Parents and students at the meeting complained that Prince was not responsive to their concerns about the racial climate during the school year. Prince was invited to that meeting but did not attend.

The school system responded quickly to parents' concerns after the meeting, adding two administrators to the staff, a second police officer and a community liaison within 24 hours to help ease the racial tension.

Later in the week, administrators called students into largely racially segregated discussion groups to talk about handling differences, and two weeks ago they took a racially mixed group of about 40 students to the school board's retreat center in Shady Side for diversity training.

A group of community leaders also met with Prince in a closed-door session last week to address concerns raised by students. They are expected to report to the community tomorrow.

"I think [the group] left with a better sense of how he's been responding," said Leslie Stanton, a school board human relations specialist. He said Friday that parents also left the meeting pledging to be more supportive of the school.

"The more involvement you have, you tend to have a lesser degree of issues or concerns," Stanton said. "It helps to not allow things to escalate."

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