Two Aledo ISD mothers who said their sons were the target of racial bullying addressed the school board publicly Thursday night, expressing concern over their children's well-being and protection.
“We — our families and our sons who are being put through this because of the stance that you all failed to take — feel that you all failed them,” one mother said during the special called meeting.
The mothers said they were notified about the incident on March 25 when screenshots of a Snapchat group surfaced.
“It was a post from a Snapchat entitled ‘(N-word) Auction,’” one of the mothers said. “As I looked down on the screen at the various name changes of the group, it included ’Slave Trade,’ it included ’(N-word) Farm’ and then I saw my son’s name.”
Over the weekend, screenshots from the chat began circulating on social media, and Aledo ISD issued a statement Monday.
The district did not provide details on a specific event, but said "there is no room for racism or hatred in the Aledo ISD" and that "using inappropriate, offensive and racially charged language and conduct is completely unacceptable and is prohibited by district policy."
Aledo ISD Superintendent Susan Bohn Thursday said the district took action, including communicating with law enforcement, the day they were notified of the incident more than two weeks ago.
"It was shocking and totally unacceptable — there’s nobody in our community who thinks it wasn’t," Bohn said Thursday night. "We don’t condone it and it’s caused severe trauma to the two students and their families and it a serious concern for all of us in our district and community, particularly those of color."
Board Secretary Forrest Collins called it a "horrific act of racism," and said his heart aches for the students, families and the community, and that the incident is not reflective of who they are as Bearcats.
"It's racism. It's OK to call it that," he said. "We all have to look within ourselves and ask what we can do, and I think that starts with listening and then action."
The mothers said they set up a meeting with AISD Police Chief Fred Collie on March 26, the morning after they received the screenshots, to make a report.
“The Aledo ISD chief asked if (the n-word) was spelled with an ‘er’ or was spelled with an ‘a,’” one of the mothers said, and that Collie told her based on his training, if the word ended with an “er” it was offensive, but if it ended with an “a,” it was a term of endearment.
It was the second time the question had been asked, according to the other mother — the first time was by the assistant principal of the Daniel Ninth Grade Center.
“In my experience, I have never heard a term of endearment that is belittling, that is demoralizing or that is dehumanizing,” the mother said.
The same day, the two mothers said they met with Daniel Ninth Grade Center Principal Carolyn Ansley, who had been informed of the incident, and then met with Bohn.
“We outlined our expectations for staff training, parenting classes and student education about racism, inclusiveness and cultural sensitivity as soon as possible,” one of the mothers said. “When we asked [Bohn] to release a statement as well, she declined.”
The mothers said they were asked to help formulate a draft letter with Bohn and the deputy superintendent. During Thursday's meeting, one of the mothers played an audio recording of a phone conversation with a district employee, where the draft letter was read aloud.
The draft was directed to freshman baseball parents and guardians and referenced a team meeting with their sons and the team, according to the recording.
“As you may have heard, we’ve been investigating a disciplinary issue involving a few Daniel Ninth Grade students who are also baseball players because of inappropriate and racially offensive conversations that occurred via social media and in person.
“Using inappropriate, offensive and racially-charged language whether it be on social media, in writing or said out loud and meant as a joke or not, is completely unacceptable and is never a joke because no matter the context, it is always hurtful,” according to the audio.
One of the mothers said it was truly the first part of that letter that was important to her because of the strong stance that it appeared the district was going to take against the racial bullying. But she said sometime between April 2 and the day the actual letter was sent out (April 5), it took a different tone.
“[It] turned into an email that took the most relaxed and comfortable approach to put out to the ninth grade parents that had no idea what was going on while our children still had to show up at school, be talked about, the situation be confronted and they see this on everyone’s phone the email wrapped in a nice tiny bow said it was cyberbullying and harassment,” she said.
Bohn cited language from the district's code of conduct in the Texas Education Code, saying racial harassment or harassment of different forms is the actionable action that a student can take against another that causes the district to be able to discipline that student.
"We discipline students because of what they do and so that is the term used in our policies and in statutes. We also said we don’t tolerate racially-charged language and that was stated in that letter," she said. "The assertion that we were hiding this is not accurate. I understand that that’s the belief. This is a group of children who engaged in this conduct, it was incredibly egregious and that letter did not just call it cyberbullying, it called it what we call it in our student code of conduct and in statutory language.
"This incident was absolutely in violation of our policies and was absolutely unacceptable and we took swift action in response to it."
AISD board members Julie Turner and Jessica Brown said their sons were friends with the boys involved.
"Seeing screenshots of that were awful," Brown said. "Last summer in June when there was a community march, my children and my husband and I attended that because whenever I signed on for this job it means all kids, every single one. We saw with the way things were in the nation that we wanted to be able to show our support. Do I know how to fix this exactly? I don’t, but am I committed to addressing that? Yes, because at the end of the day what we want is for every one of our students to feel safe.
"I know some of you don’t feel that way and that’s not what I want."
One of the mothers issued a charge to the school board and administration Thursday to "make a stand for our children."
"They are a part of the Aledo community and this is your job. This is what you got voted in for, this is what you ran for.”
Bohn said going forward, the work will be a community- and district-wide effort.
Collins added that these are conversations that need to continue to happen.
"Education starts at home but public education is a partnership between schools and parents, and our school district is the heart of our community so we have to lead," he said. "We have to listen and we have to lead with action."
Other trustees and community members, including Weatherford/NAACP President Eddie Burnett, also spoke during Thursday's meeting. No action was taken, as the conversation occurred during the public comments portion. AISD meets again Monday evening.