By Melissa McCaghren
The Slaton Independent School District administration had a 44-minute long public comment Thursday evening (Jan. 12), with people from all over the City and State speaking on the recent issues of bullying, racism and discrimination.
Their one common thread every person made – the administration and Board has not done enough to help its students, and change was needed so students can learn in a welcoming, non-discriminatory place.
A total of 14 people spoke at the meeting to six trustees and Superintendent Jim Andrus. Board President Carlos Bentancourt was absent.
No action could be taken on any of the public comment items, and each person was given three minutes to speak.
The comments addressed by every person ranged the gamut of concerns since the District had a Civil Rights Complaint filed on it in December, alleging violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
One parent, Alex Garcia, addressed some experiences of bullying his student had and spoke on behalf of his and all children. He said the family kept an open dialogue on the issue and would discuss the lack of action on follow through punishments for the use of epithets. He was very disappointed what he saw was an “apathetic” response from the administration and expected the Board to be accountable.
Students – those who have graduated and not, spoke, as well as adults who have had youth approach them on the subject.
LaVance Samuels, pastor at Tabernacle of Truth, said one student’s presentation saying she was “frightened” to go to school was a common theme in his youth meetings. He has one weekly, with classes ranging from 15-20 students.
Samuels added he did not understand why the Board did not know kids feel ashamed to report bullying and afraid if they do they will be in trouble themselves. “It shouldn’t be that way,” he said, adding that in his group none of them said they had not been bullied – be it Hispanic, African American or Caucasian students.
Parents of all races also said they had their own children say to them they were “afraid to make a report.”
Danielle East, who graduated years ago from a town similar in size, said one thing in common with both schools was bullying between students.
East said bullying affects anyone who had it occur to them – in her own class of 135, half the graduates are now either dead or in jail. She said students needed to have “their voices heard.”
Some wanted people to wake up to the problems going on that lead to the complaint.
Valarie Johnson simply asked everyone in attendance if they “Were tired” of the negativity brought on the town started from the complaint.
She mentioned how the cheerleading team, who was competing in the State UIL Spirit Contest Thursday, did not get the send off they deserved, because of the issue.
“I’m asking everybody in this room today: See how this feels. Does this feel good to anyone? Are we embarrassed? As a community, how does it make us look? How does it make us feel? How does it make our children feel – bad,” she said, adding it was affecting everyone.
She wanted changes as well, and pointed out to people in and outside of Slaton who were wanting to help. “Take the help so we’re never in this position again,” added Johnson.
Some people were concerned the public did not have input on action considered by the Board.
Morris Overstreet, a former judge for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, was there in support of families and Slaton. He also noted communication was vital to create an environment free from bullying and harassment.
“It’s important that we have a conversation. I think it’s important that the Board involve the parents who live right here in Slaton,” he said. “Communication is key – it’s one thing to talk to, it’s another to talk with.”
The Rev. Todd Yeary of The Rainbow PUSH Coalition said he was appreciative of the disclosure of the resolution, but inquired if the public had any input on it.
He also encouraged the Board to make the minutes of the special meeting Jan. 5 public so they could understand what went into the resolution.
Yeary also noted the extended holiday break for Martin Luther King Jr. Day announced Wednesday (Jan. 11). “I hope that if it is mentioned in the spirit in which is offered – that if that work is to be honored, codify that five day weekend and make it part of the school calendar going forward,” he said.
Yeary added he didn’t want it to appear the extended weekend instead was done to “disperse folks who have a particular interest about what was happening in their community.
He added he was there to help set a standard to recognize Slaton standing up or “we do not stand at all.”
A few, however, wanted the accountability to go to the next level, in the form of resignations. JaQuatta Manahan, whose daughter was the focus of the Civil Rights complaint, said it was not just her, but also a son who were involved in the filing. She showed a timeline of the incident, and was among those who were calling for resignations.
“I just want some accountability,” she said, adding she had followed the District’s procedure on how to handle complaints after her children had been punished. This included resources.
Manahan then added she brought some in attendance because she was pushing for peace.
“I’m pushing peace, I’m pushing – I’m pushing peace,” she said, but adding she again wanted accountability. “Make a change, do the right thing.”
Manahan added she didn’t want anyone to endure what she had been enduring.
She said there was one Slaton ISD teacher who wrote an apology letter to her, but still wanted change from the top down. “Stand on your feet with me if you want change,” she said, with everyone in the audience standing up.
In addition to the Board meeting, several Slaton residents gathered at Slaton High School’s Horseshoe Monday evening (Jan. 16) for prayer for students and community.
There were also two press conferences conducted in Lubbock Thursday (Jan. 12). The NAACP conducted one conference and the other sponsored by the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, Texas Coalition of Black Democrats, Rainbow PUSH Coalition and the New Black Panther Nation.
Any items that may come from the public comment would be in the February meeting.
(Editor’s note, this story is ongoing and any updates will be reported as received.)