FERNANDINA BEACH WEATHER

Nassau County School Board hears from the public after racial incident at Yulee High School

By Susan Hardee Steger
October 29, 2021

Jamie Deonas; Dr. Cindy Grooms; Gail Cook, Vice-Chairman; Dr. Kathy Burns, Superintendent; Donna Martin, Chairman; Lissa Braddock; School Board Attorney Brett Steger

The Nassau County School Board held its first regular meeting after an incident on October 22, when a video with two white boys using racial slurs and displaying a white hood was sent to a group of black football players at Yulee High School. A fight broke out between football players and a student who participated in making the video. Parents said they were defending themselves after being bullied and targeted because of their race. Football players involved in the fighting were not allowed to play in the school’s homecoming game.

Vice-Chair Gail Cook ran the meeting in the absence of School Board Chairman Donna Martin.

Superintendent Kathy Burns said an active investigation is taking place on all information available on the incident. “Administrators are limited as to what they can say in relation to individual students due to privacy laws.”

Dr. Burns stated the following facts:
1. There was a video made by students that was offensive in language and imagery and included a racial slur.
2. A video was created it seems in the summer prior to the beginning of school year. The content was offensive and not consistent with the values of the Nassau County School district.
3. It was sent to several high school students, specifically football players, by someone not identified as the individual who created the video.
4. Subsequently, a physical altercation took place between several individuals who received the video and one of the students who participated in the making of the video. The students involved in the physical altercation were disciplined consistent with the Student Code of Conduct. the student who distributed the video, likewise, was disciplined consistent with the Student Code of Conduct.
5. The school district is continuing to investigate the facts and circumstances around the creation and distribution of the video. We are determining what if any action we can take against the students who made the video.

To answer the question as to why the school administration did not punish the boys who made the video, School Board Attorney Brett Steger said, “The U.S. Supreme Court in numerous cases has limited the schools’ right to discipline students for an activity that occurs off-campus. Additionally, in this scenario, we have issues that touch on or deal with 1st amendment implications.Because the video was created before the students were even members of Yulee High School for the 2021-22 school year and because the students who created it did not distribute the video, further investigation is necessary to determine whether any acts were committed by these students which lawfully can be subject to discipline. “

Some comments from speakers:

“I want to address the young men who were involved in the incident. I’m sorry, I’m sorry you had to deal with this racism head-on at such a young age.” We taught our children to use their voices, to speak up and that their voice matters. We witnessed this when students took part in a National Walk Out Day to protest gun violence back in 2018, but when football players wanted to sit out or take a knee to support their teammates, the school administrators told them they would be benched if they chose to do so. Yet again, this incident taught our children that the color of their skin factors into whether their voice matters.”

Members of the Nassau County School Board, our school district has a part in writing the next chapter. The actions and works of our school administrators matter. We need to be honest about the racism that is happening within our school district. So that we can [inaudible] move toward a better future without it.”

When are we doing a post mortem of the incident response from the school, what are we going to do with the information? Will it be transparent to us? I don’t understand why we haven’t worked better through this. Why was initial action not to look at the root cause and [instead] be punitive to the boys who received the video?

According to national statistics, “Black students . . . . face more excessive discipline than their white counterparts. “The prime example is the recent situation at Yulee High School.”

“From day one, there was no protection from anybody in this situation. The mindset of sweeping situations like this under the rug and not addressing it and holding anyone accountable has to stop.”

“I would like a meeting; I would like a sit down . . . you owe us that respect. There are many parents in this room who won t stand up here because they can’t speak through their tears. You need to see the pain in our eyes and in our voices to make this go away. There is more that we could have done that we did not do.” (Burns agreed to a meeting.)

“I tell my boys all the time that life is 90% of how you react to something and 10% of what happened to you. Was our reaction to what happened appropriate or not?”

“We are teaching our kids how to be leaders and have great character. When you sit down and tell them what they say and how they feel doesn’t matter, you don’t have a future. Our kids’ voices matter.”

Bishop Thomas Coleman spoke briefly. “From the time this event began we have not received any information that is consistent. So on behalf of the NCCLC and the NAACP membership of Nassau County we desire . . . we are demanding full disclosure of all information concerning the events that took place and as of tonight we will seek legal guidance on the events that took place.

After the public spoke, there were no comments from the school board members.

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