A Glendale elementary school principal has admitted to telling a 9-year old boy that it is OK to have racist feelings as long as you keep them to yourself.
“As we said to (the boy) when he was in here, in your heart you may have that feeling, and that is OK if that is your personal belief,” Abraham Lincoln Traditional School Principal Virginia Voinovich said in a tape-recorded parent-teacher conference.
The boy was suspended for three days this month for allegedly committing a “hate crime” by using the expression “brown people.”
The circumstances of the boy’s suspension itself raise troubling questions about student discipline, interrogation and oversight at Abraham Lincoln.
According to school officials, the boy made a statement about “brown people” to another elementary student with whom he was having a conflict. They maintain it was his second offense using the phrase.
But the tape recording indicates this only came out after another parent was allowed to question the boy and elicited from him the statement that he “doesn't cooperate with brown people.”
After that was reported to the boy's teacher, he was made to stand in front of his class and publicly confess what he'd said.
The boy maintains that he never said it; that the words were put in his mouth by the parent who questioned him. That parent happens to be the mother of the student with whom he is having a conflict—and she happens to work for Abraham Lincoln as a detention-room officer.
The tape indicates that rather than just spouting off with racial invective, the boy was asked first why he didn't want to cooperate with brown people by the parent/school official.
In court, this might be called entrapment. Not to mention a conflict of interest.
Well, the boy’s mother is talking, and she is angry. She has also removed her son from the school.
“I want parents to know … that principals can abuse their powers,” Sherry Neve, 35, said. “Principals need to have pro-active supervisors. I want the parents to know that the principal was influencing my son in a way I wouldn't want him to be raised.”
Neve said school officials didn’t advise her of the incident until several days after they questioned her son. When Neve objected to the suspension during the conference, Voinovich told her that she didn't have any rights; that parents give up their rights to discipline when they send a child to school, the tape shows.
“If you don't want that, you can take him out of here,” Voinovich said tersely.
Neve insists that her son is not a racist and that he never differentiated a person's color until the school made it in an issue.
“We were raised to be color blind,” she said. “My children were raised the same way.”
But let's assume for a minute that the boy actually made the comment. Does this make him a racist and guilty of a hate crime? Or does it make him a confused 9-year-old in need of counseling?
Instead of taking an opportunity to educate the boy and get to the root of the problem, the principal taught him another lesson altogether: It's OK to feel like a racist as long as you keep your feelings to yourself.
Kids often say the darndest things. Apparently, so do principals.
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