Students at a Baltimore County high school drew a racially offensive picture on a classroom board last week and then sent it out on Twitter, prompting the principal to call police and suspend several students.
The picture, drawn during class at Eastern Technology High School, shows three nooses hanging from the rafters of a building, according to Baltimore County police spokesman Cathy Batton. Beside the ropes are a burning cross with three stick figures in pointed hats, suggesting the Ku Klux Klan. To the right is a grave marker with the name Barack Obama at the top; under the president's name are two racial epithets.
"We have a group of teenagers who made bad decisions. It was coupled with a lack of supervision by a teacher. We are going to use it as a teaching opportunity next year," said Eastern Tech Principal Tom Evans.
Some African-American parents say their children have told them they have heard racial slurs and jokes told about blacks in the Essex-area school in the past year. Some parents reported the issue to administrators, while others have said their children stayed quiet.
The picture was drawn the morning of June 7, the day before school ended. The drawing was made toward the end of the class period when students were coming and going, said Batton, who had reviewed the police report. At the time, the teacher did not notice because she was at her desk talking to several students about their final exam grades. A student told her about the drawing. "When she went to go see, most of the images had been erased," Batton said.
But a student in the class had taken a photo of the drawing before it was erased, and posted the photo on Twitter, where it was seen by other students. Early the next morning, a parent emailed the photo that her child had taken from the social media site to an assistant principal, Batton said.
Since then several parents have seen the photo. "It was disgraceful. I am not naive," said one African-American mother of an Eastern Tech student; she did not want to be identified for fear that her child would face retaliation. "It was shocking to see how raw it was. You didn't have to decode it. It was blatant ... and it made me angry."
While she knows that racism exists, the mother said, she never expected her child to feel the school wasn't safe or that he had to confront it in such a brutal way. She said her child has heard white students call him and other black students names, as well as tell racial jokes. "I just never realized my kid would face it in this extreme manner," the mother said. "I looked at [the picture] for an hour in total disbelief."
Evans said he does not believe the incident reflects the culture at his very diverse school, which has a 30 percent minority population of Asians, blacks and Hispanics. Evans said students from many countries and backgrounds attend the school and they all get along.
"The culture here is very positive. These kids all get along very well. This issue is the first time in my five years here that there has been any group targeted because of their race. We have no tolerance for this sort of thing," said Evans.
Eastern Tech, a magnet school, is considered one of the best high schools in the region. The school has entrance requirements and is designated as a National Blue Ribbon High School, one of only two in the county. It has a high percentage of graduates who have passed at least one Advanced Placement test before they graduate.
Evans said the two students who drew the picture, and another who posted it on social media, have been suspended, but final disciplinary actions have not been determined.
Police will not bring charges, Batton said, because the incident is not considered a hate crime. She said the police report was preliminary and therefore she could not release it.
Evans said he showed the photo of the drawing to faculty members last Friday and told them parents were concerned that teachers were turning their backs on racial tensions in the school. The faculty responded that they had not heard racist remarks between students, and if they did they would have reported them.
"There is no room for this in the school. We think we should be a national model for diversity," Evans said, adding that the school will discuss the issue next fall.
Parents said they are glad that Evans reacted quickly to the incident. But they hope teachers and administrators will approach the topic in a comprehensive way that teaches children to be more tolerant, not just of black students, but also of gay and lesbian students who may be hearing similar offensive language.
"We have implemented a comprehensive investigation of the issue," said Edward Newsome, the county administrator in charge of high schools. "Several actions have already taken place. We are also addressing next steps aimed at responding to the concerns of students, parents and other stakeholders."