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Two African American Students Under Suspension Over Chewing Gum!

By Kendra Perry

04 March, 2008

During an interview on Real Talk with Al Sharpton on February 29, father of a 13-year-old African American student, Marcus White, tells Sharpton, “There’s a travesty today in Greensboro, North Carolina!”

Mr. White received a phone call from his son’s school early Friday morning notifying of his son’s pending suspension. The two African American students were accused of allegedly selling gum to students on school premises. School administrators were purporting that this action was in violation of Rule 24 of the code of conduct outlined in the Guilford County Public School’s handbook, although the “violation” does not explicitly meet any of the criterion set forth. A teacher overheard Marcus speaking with another student, Stacy Guess (also a Black student), and him mentioning that he made money selling candy and that teacher notified the Principal, resulting in both students’ suspension. Neither of the two students was caught selling anything on school grounds, nor were they found to be in possession of any candy or gum. Because of the implication of said action, the school felt it was necessary in suspending both children for 5 days off hearsay and speculation, and not the result of a particular action or inaction. As Mr. White so eloquently stated while discussing his son’s suspension with Sharpton, “President Bush signed a law stating that no child is to be left behind, but my child is being left behind for 5 days!” This action by the school in and of itself was disruptive to both African America Students classroom instruction, a disruption because of an action that did not occur.

Mr. White attempted to ascertain what exactly was going on, and while speaking with the Principal was abruptly disconnected from the telephone conversation. The Principal refused to speak with him further until meeting with him in person. Mr. White, accompanied by two representatives from the NAACP, and a spiritual advisor, met with the Principal to discuss the merits of the suspension. The Principal admitted that no one actually witnessed any of the actions being committed and also admitted to having both student’s lockers searched and had a local police officer canvas neighborhood stores to inquire if any store owners witnessed or encountered any African American children stealing candy from their establishments.

Mr. White, understandably upset, tells the Principal, “This has to do with race. If my child had been a White child, none of this would have happened!”

As educators, there is a huge responsibility in ensuring that individuals set positive examples to the children they teach, but when you have personnel who blatantly have disregard for the safety and nurturing of the students, families, and communities they serve/represent, it speaks to a larger issue that many are unwilling to address. With educators such as the Principal, there is no surprise why the drop-out rate of male students in North Carolina is 59.4%(as of 2007), with African American males accounting for 7.55% (according to the Public Schools of North Carolina State Board of Education).

There is a time and consequence for actions that involve disruptive and disobedient students. But the actions of the school, in particular the Principal, for an alleged act, speak to other underlying issues that will come to light through the efforts of parents like Mr. White who are actively and aggressively involved in the education of his two children.

Bonita Wallace
Black Youth Of America

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