At Peck Slip School, students and staff are expected to follow four basic rules: be safe, be kind, be helpful and be your best - all of which they’ve failed to demonstrate toward two Black children.
Founder and CEO of FinTech startup Bckers, Inc., Amos Winbush, moved to Manhattan with the idea his children would be guaranteed a positive education experience. Instead, his 10-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son have come home with stories of racist threats and acts of violence towards them. Now the school and the NY Department of Education are facing a lawsuit.
Vile Racially Motivated Attacks
Mr. Winbush tells The Root each of his children have been experiencing racial bullying since 2019. His daughter, he says, often came home complaining of her peers making comments about her looking “dirty” or comparing her to “poop” because of her skin color. Once, Winbush says she was forced to apologize for taking a toy back that was initially stolen from her by another student.
His son, on the other hand, didn’t have to say much about the bullying because the damage was displayed all over his body. Winbush said on multiple occasions while picking him up from school or bathing him before bed, he would see large scratches on his body or bruises on his face from being punched by his peers.
During the pandemic, the behavior even peeked through virtual learning through verbal bullying in breakout rooms, Winbush said. By 2022, the behavior escalated to his daughter having food poured down her shirt and her clothes ripped. Then, his son experienced death threats from his peer. In none of these situations did the school call to notify Mr. Winbush or his wife of the terror their kids were experiencing, the suit says.
Lack of Accountability from School Staff
After reaching out to the school principal and various administrators, Winbush says he was met with a series of unhelpful, ignorant responses to these bullying allegations.
“The representative from the DOE calls me back and I tell her what’s going on and she says to me, a white lady, ‘That doesn’t sound like racism to me.’ And this was the exact same week that a child told my daughter her skin was dirty and she needed to scrub it clean to be white like hers,” he said.
Winbush eventually pulled local political officials to advocate for his children. Only then did the NY Public Schools Chancellor and District 2 superintendent agree to have a meeting with him which is when he says he was told because he “spoke so articulately” that could be “scary” to a lot of people.
“The misconception is that racism has to be someone blowing the n-word around over and over and over. That’s not always what how racism shows up. Racism is the subtle microaggressions that eat away at your humanity,” Winbush said. “It’s the nature of [regarding] someone as if they’re beneath you as second class citizens.”
The Root reached out to the NY DOE and Peck Slip School for comment on the allegations and lawsuit.
A Whistleblowing Lawsuit
Though, once it became clear the students terrorizing the two children would not suffer punishment, Mr. Winbush decided to file a lawsuit. The attorneys representing the Winbush family, both Black fathers, believe the lawsuit is crucial to exposing the racial discrimination across New York school districts.
New York Public Schools enrollment in grades K-12 is 25 percent for Black kids. Per the 2021-22 data for District 2, where Peck Slip lies, has an enrollment of only 14 Black kids. Peck Slip School itself has a Black student population of just 9 percent and economically disadvantaged student population of 14 percent. It’s safe to conclude this school is used to catering to the needs of wealthy white children versus their small number of Black students.
The suit names The Board of Education of the City School District of the City of New York and New York City Community School District 2, Peck Slip School Principal Maggie Siena and Assistant Principal Casey Corey as defendants.
“When you think about the mass exodus of Black people from New York City going to cities like Atlanta or Charlotte or Houston, they’re leaving in many respects because of course the cost of living - it’s difficult to live here and you’re talking about the wealthiest school district - but also the fact New York tries to blind everyone from the fact that the city has the most segregated school districts in the nation,” said Hamilton Clark LLP attorney Lance Clark. “It’s extremely economically stratified and if you have Black or brown children oftentimes, you end up sending them to schools where they’re going to be dealing with [racism].”
Co-counsel Phillip Hamilton echoed the notion of using the lawsuit to expose the injustice within the education department but also to fight back against the behavior aimed to drive Black kids out of schools.
“We’re expected to pick up from a neighborhood that we’ve lived in for 18 years and run somewhere else. We teach our children that it’s okay to run when you have adversity in front of you versus going head straight into it to say no,” said Hamilton. “At the end of the day the responsibility is solely on the shoulders of the adults in the room because kids are only going to do with the adults allow them to do it is a problem.”
More from The Root