The parents of two students at an Aledo school called on the school board and community to take action at a board meeting Thursday night after their sons were the target of a “slave trade” created on social media by their peers.
On Monday, the Star-Telegram broke the now-national story that a group of students at Daniel Ninth Grade Center were disciplined after making a “slave auction” on Snapchat where they pretend to bid on and sell their Black peers.
Tamara Lawrence and Mioshi Johnson said at Thursday’s school board meeting that their sons were two of the students targeted. The women were working with local NAACP president Eddie Burnett to ask the school board for changes. They said they presented the board with a list of demands that included diversity training for staff and parents.
In the hallway of the Aledo ISD administration building, Lawrence and Johnson talked to reporters about what they want to see from the board now. The women wore T-shirts that said, “Our Children Are Priceless” above a screenshot of the Snapchat group that pretended to sell their sons in a slave auction.
“(Our sons) were not victims. Our sons were targets of racism and a hate crime and a racially charged incident,” Johnson said after she addressed the board during the meeting. “This is their community. This is our community. So tonight really what we came for was to let the school board and our community know that we are planning a call of action. Now is the time for the Aledo school district, the Aledo administration and the community to come together and make a difference.”
Johnson said the district handled the initial investigation into the incident swiftly when, about two weeks ago, a group of students on the baseball team created the group on Snapchat. A screenshot provided to the Star-Telegram showed a Snapchat group with various names, including “Slave Trade” and another name that includes a racial slur. One person typed they would spend $1 on a peer, and another person wrote in the chat they would pay $100 for someone else.
The district quickly followed protocols in their investigation, Lawrence said. Administration identified the students who started the group and disciplined them, and gave Johnson and Lawrence an investigative report. However, the women asked that Aledo Superintendent Dr. Susan Bohn and Principal Carolyn Ansley take a firm stance against the racism portrayed in the fake slave auction.
The women say that did not happen.
“What happened is, it was watered down,” Lawrence said.
In a letter sent to parents the week of April 5, Ansley wrote that “an incident of cyberbullying and harassment” occurred. The letter says “racially charged language” violates the student code of conduct, but the letter does not include the words ‘racism’ or ‘racist.’
On Monday, Bohn said in a statement that a group of students cyberbullied and harassed other students based on their race.
“There is no room for racism or hatred in the Aledo ISD, period,” Bohn said in the statement. “Using inappropriate, offensive and racially charged language and conduct is completely unacceptable and is prohibited by district policy.”
Trustees addressed the racist incident at the board meeting, which was initially scheduled as a special meeting to go over COVID-19 updates in the district.
Trustee Julie Turner said during the meeting that her son is friends with Lawrence’s and Johnson’s sons.
“It was racism,” she said. “There is no getting around that. For anyone to say it wasn’t, I don’t agree and I have never felt different. But it should not be tolerated in our community. Our children deserve better and we demand more.”
In regards to the district’s plans, Trustee Jessica Brown said “the work moving forward with respect for training for our staff, our students and our community is a community-wide effort, and it’s also an effort by Aledo ISD.”
Burnett and other activists said they plan to speak at the Aledo ISD board meeting Monday night, as well.
Past racist events
The minimizing of racist events is a pattern in Aledo, Burnett said.
“When people say this is not us, that is totally wrong,” he said. “This is us. This is who we are. Our children are a reflection of us. They’re a reflection of what they’ve learned from us. We should not be surprised what they’ve learned. They are repeating what they thought was acceptable.”
For example, he said Ansley’s letter to parents downplayed the events. He and other activists want to see the school board take strong action against racism.
“Whatever you don’t actively discourage you support,” he said. “Whether you want to or not.”
Lawrence said her son and Johnson’s son were doing as well as can be expected. The experience “dehumanized them, belittled them and embarrassed them,” Johnson said, but they have “taken charge of how they decide this situation is going to play into their life.”
“What’s important for them to see is that their community is willing to fight for them as much as their parents are,” Lawrence said. “And part of that that we’ve said from the very beginning is to be truthful, to be transparent and to speak to racism directly.”
Johnson said her family has lived in Aledo since 2009, and they love the community. They see the bright parts of the city, but “we have seen the dark side of Aledo,” too, she said.
This is not the first time the school board has dealt with a public, racist incident at an Aledo school. In 2016, a racial slur was written on the inside of a stall in the intermediate school’s boys bathroom, along with a number of other graphic words and images, according to a statement from the district at the time.
In response, in May 2017, the district’s School Health Advisory Council (SHAC) presented a Cultural Inclusiveness Plan to the school board, the Weatherford Democrat reported at the time.
But at first, the plan did not even go to a vote. Former Trustee Bobby Rigues made a motion to accept the plan, according to the May 15 board meeting minutes, and no one seconded the motion. Trustees said they did not want to approve it yet because they felt the plan was too broad in scope and vague, the Weatherford Democrat reported.
Two years later, in February 2018, the plan was accepted after various versions were presented to the school board. One of the main points of contention was the plan’s name, which Hoyt Harris — at the time a trustee and now the board president — felt pointed out the differences between students. He suggested the word “cultural” be replaced by “student.”
The plan, which retained its original name, is posted on the district’s website.