When will Black students’ lives really matter in U.S. public schools?

By: K.H. Hamilton, NNPA Contributing Writer

As activists and policymakers continue to urge the US Senate to pass HR 1280, the George Floyd Policing Act of 2021 prompting for police reform on our streets, is anyone paying attention to the policing that is happening against Black students in U.S. Public schools?

Black students report the highest percentage of racial bias incidents nationwide (CRDC, 2018) more than any other racial group of students. This reporting includes disproportionately higher rates of referrals to law enforcement and school arrests. However, these statistics rarely make national headlines. It’s no wonder that most folks haven’t heard about the August 31, 2021, at Valhalla High School in El Cajon. Where a 14-year-old African American experienced a similar physical restraint to that of the late George Floyd when a 5’11, nearly 208 lb. 51-year-old campus security supervisor placed his knee on her neck in an attempt to break up a fight.

After several videos circulated on social media, and the story was reported in local media outlets, including the San Diego Voice and Viewpoints Newspaper, published by Dr. John Warren, the Grossmont Union High School District immediately launched an investigation.

Now, less than a month after this assault occurred, Investigator, Attorney Dan Quiller recommends that the Campus supervisor remains on paid administrative leave until he receives additional training and be reassigned to a different school. Attorney Quiller also concluded that actions of the Campus Supervisor, who is a former Sheriff’s Deputy were not racist in nature and GUHSD’s Superintendent Teresa Kemper, who released Attorney Quiller’s findings could only apologize to the student for what should not have happened.

The fact that a 9th grade student was placed in a “hogtie” position with Campus Security Supervisor’s knee on her neck for 4 seconds while he simultaneously smooshed her face into the ground with his elbow as her legs were held down by two other White male staff members was not only a violation of California Education Codes use of physical restraint but a violation of her civil and human rights.

It is equally disturbing that what prompted the Campus Supervisor’s initial anger abrupted when the student knocked his $300 pair of glasses to the ground during the incident. After this 9th grader was assaulted and restrained by the former Sheriff’s Deputy and staff, she was handcuffed, and arrested (Crenshaw et al., 2015) for “…Assaulting School Staff and Resisting Arrest” while her peers laughed, jeered, and videotaped the incident.

Let’s be clear, the dehumanization (Goff et al., 2014) and criminalization (Morris, 2016) of this young student call for more than an apology from Superintendent Kemper and recommendations from an outside investigator for more training and a job transfer.

The Campus Security Supervisor along with the two other men who held down this young student’s legs must ALL be released from their duties. But the consequences, must not end there. The only transfer that needs to occur is that of Principal Brianne Froumis, who took 8 minutes to arrive at the fight scene and allowed two of her assistant principals to be absent on the same day, which caused a shortage of staff and supervision. It should be noted that the tactics used by the Marine Corps Recruiter who de-escalated the other student involved in the fight were humane and respectful.

Attorney Quiller, who is African American described the school climate at Valhalla High School where students use the n-word and several staff have made racist comments. Vice Principal Sandra White, who is also African American stated that she noticed a slight decline in the word being used by students from every day pre-COVID to nearly every day post-COVID. Black students make up less than 3% of the school’s total population.

Local community organizations like the NAACP San Diego put out a statement calling for action, including firing the Campus Supervisor. In spite of this plea, the collective outcry of injustice from Black, Brown, Asian and White voices demanding justice for this student is missing. Interestingly, in July of 2021, local activists of all races rallied together to call for the firing of a basketball coach when tortillas were thrown at a CIF Championship game. This cultural misappropriation prompted Coronado High School to relinquish its CIF title and release the coach from his duties. Yet, for a Black 9th-grade foster student who was clearly harmed, the recommendation is for more training and a job transfer.

So today I call on NNPA, the National Black Press to alert our community and all of humanity who care about Black students’ lives about this egregious act of Anti-Blackness. This story must go viral!

Everyone including lawmakers must be held accountable for the systemic changes that are needed in our community. Remove school policing from school and provide students with educators, including Black teachers and mental health staff to promote racial healing and support.

Black students, including this young 9th grader, who may still be in juvenile hall, must know that we care and that their lives truly matter!

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