Amelia County parents heartbroken over student racism allegations, school board passes new discipline code

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AMELIA COUNTY, Va. (WRIC)– Some Amelia County Public Schools parents are calling on the administration to take action after a group of middle school students alleged they were being targeted with racist comments.

A group of nearly 10 eighth-grade students who attend Amelia Middle School told 8News they’ve been targeted for several years because of the color of their skin — but this year it has gotten worse.

“Ever since we came back to school, many people have just been using racial slurs and comments towards us and I feel very uncomfortable,” said Alexis Henderson, a student at the school.

According to Henderson, her classmates are being harassed online from anonymous social media accounts.

Iyannae Hicks, another student at Amelia Middle School, said several of her classmates are constantly being called slurs like the ‘n-word’ and ‘cotton pickers.’ In addition, students said that others are threatening to hang them.

Earlier this month, Henderson called her mother from a teacher’s phone at school. Nichole Henderson said she immediately picked her daughter up from the middle school.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Henderson. “They shouldn’t have to fear going to school and being treated like this. We send them to what we think is a safe environment and trust our kids into these hands of the administration and teachers.”

Henderson said her classmates have been speaking with the school counselor and Amelia County Public Schools teacher, Tara Booker.

According to Booker, she conducted a mental health analysis on the students last week. Booker said their mental health has declined while dealing with the issues at school and that she has been meeting with them in the wellness room.

“When these students are in class, it looks as if the light has been sucked out of them,” Booker said. “They’re not comfortable. They’re not safe. They’re afraid to be in this building.”

Amelia County Middle School students facing racism
A group of nearly 10 eighth-grade students who attend Amelia Middle School told 8News they’ve been targeted for several years because of the color of their skin — but this year it has gotten worse.

Nichole Henderson attended Monday night’s School Board meeting where parents voiced their concerns about behavioral issues county-wide.

In an email response written to Henderson, School Board member Michael Neller, who represents the 3rd district, said Superintendent Dr. Lori Harper started corrective action after she was notified.

According to Harper, Amelia is seeing conduct issues like many other school systems are seeing nationwide this year. Harper said of the 1,649 students in ACPS, fewer than 2% are causing the majority of disruptions in the K-12 classrooms.

According to the 2021 code of student conduct, bullying with no physical injury and using slurs based upon the actual or perceived race or ethnicity is a level two offense. These interventions involve the school administration and aim to correct behavior by stressing the seriousness of the behavior while keeping the student in school.

Cyberbullying, hate speech and harassment are level three offenses. These interventions may involve the short-term removal of a student from the school environment because of the severity of the behavior.

So far, the school system has increased the number of counselors in schools, added a behavior specialist and has contracted with a company to provide behavior support services two days a week. In addition, the school system provided professional development on working with students post-pandemic last month.

In a letter written to School Board members, Dr. Harper addressed that more needs to be done:

Current educational practices encourage restorative justice. Restorative justice practices, defined by Panorama Education are ‘an alternative to using punishment-based approaches to school discipline and behavior management in K-12 classrooms. It focuses on repairing harm through inclusive processes that bring together students and educators.’ While restorative justice practices may be well-intentioned; this is not working for all students at this time.”

Lori Harper, Superintendent of Amelia County Public Schools

Due to problems observed at schools, the board passed Harper’s proposed revision to the discipline code.

“I propose more stringent and more clearly defined consequences for inappropriate student conduct,” Harper wrote.

Among a list, students who use racial slurs or are involved in other racially related incidents will face a three to five-day minimum out-of-school suspension. A student’s first two incidents of disruption to the educational environment result in an in-school suspension with the possibility of an out-of-school suspension. Students will also face increased consequences for each added incident.

Changes will take effect Jan. 1, 2022, and Harper told 8News that parents will be receiving a letter at the end of this week notifying them of the new requirements and consequences.

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