No more charity for racial insensitivity

Jefferson County Public Schools are out of control, and it isn’t the kids.

Allegations of child abuse by preschool teachers. A principal with poor boundaries and loose lips. Police abusing and aiming weapons at students.

With so many adults in the Jefferson County Public School system in trouble, I have one question: Who is taking care of our kids? I mean this question with implicit duality.

Who cares for our kids during the hours we are away? And who are these hooligans who are supposed to be doing the work of adults?

DuPont Manual High School Principal Jerry Mayes says he is committed to open discussions of diversity and inclusion. At least, that’s what he told Courier Journal.

Apparently, his openness to discuss includes telling African-American students who wanted to organize a black student union that he understands oppression because he too has been oppressed.

Courier Journal reported that he told the students during a recorded conversation that, “You don’t know how I was isolated or you don’t know how I was discriminated against by the Catholic community because I was a Protestant. My parents divorced. I could say that all day.”

He also said, “Listen, I’ve been discriminated against because I was white. That ain’t right.”

He added that he’d “lost four jobs because I was white.”

WTF, Jerry?  Oh wait, poor white guys. I forgot. Cry me a river.

A parent, Keni Brown, wrote to the school board and superintendent with concerns that her daughter was insulted and demeaned during this meeting. Brown said that Mayes was abusing his authority. This conversation resulted in a reprimand for the principal.

But yes, poor white Jerry, who can’t keep his mouth shut. It isn’t just that he’s bad with kids. He’s obviously bad with his staff too. He gets a no-confidence vote from me.

What will Jerry do?

I’m guessing he’ll do something sneaky like, oh maybe, start a letter writing campaign to make him look better. You know one of those where you write to anyone who might have, kind of, had (maybe) a good interaction with you once at a Denny’s, or in a one-hour meeting. You know, good words from folks who are really well attuned to your character.

Hyperbole. But I see that in Mayes’ future.

And it looks like he’ll need that support, because the kids want him out. They staged a sit-in Tuesday morning and are calling loudly for his removal.

To discourage positive activities in young people, and to question the family status of a successful Manual student, as Mayes did with Brown, is pretty outrageous.

Even if parents had been present for either situation, which they were not, I think it is safe to say that Mayes has no place in an educational setting. These situations are wildly inappropriate and show that Mayes needs some education of his own.

Mayes said he wanted the students to help him be better. Not their responsibility.

He said at the town hall he held with the students on Friday, “Obviously, I need to shut up and listen.”

That’s a good first step, Jerry.

“I need to get you to help me be better,” he implored, begging for charity from his school.

Charity is the last thing Mayes should be given, and just because he asks does not pardon the reckless transfer of such damaging ideology. Mayes gets no charity. Mayes should get lost and do his own soul searching. It isn’t the responsibility of students to offer that help.

We’re many years past charity for insensitive behavior concerning race, sexuality, gender, etc. These have been cultural issues in this nation for too long to claim total ignorance about any of them. Information is too readily available for excuses.

In October, students at Jeffersontown High School recorded police officers beating a student. At one point in the video, one of the officers pointed his Taser at students. Again, inconceivable, and what are police doing in a setting where still-developing people are present?

When school Board Member Chris Kolb raised this issue and asked that it be added to the board meeting agenda, the request was denied. The parents and protestors who showed up to voice their support for Kolb’s request were then removed from the meeting.

Let me repeat — parents were removed from a meeting being held to discuss their children’s education. The education system is one that all citizens pay to support, whether or not they have children. All taxpayers, children and others should be angry that parents were removed from this meeting.

Teachers should be professionals trained not only in their subject but also in the basics of youth development. If they aren’t, then JCPS needs to be training them to address issues of child/adolescent development.

It isn’t just that.

That would be an oversimplified look at the problem.

When Black Lives Matter heard of the Jeffersontown situation, members offered a list of remedies, which include these points:

Increase counselors trained and experienced in generational trauma, provide training for restorative and transformative practices for all teachers and staff and incorporate student leadership in developing safe schools that foster equitable success rates.

This is an excellent place to start — one that is about making school better for all kids and beginning to break down the school-to-prison pipeline that has damaged poor and black youth for far too long.

Jefferson County’s school district is long overdue for some deep soul searching and program revamping to fit a changing world.

It is time for the education to match the world that these kids live in.

For all of us who work in education, or not, we need to rethink how we discipline. We don’t have to fight or demean our children to help shape them, and we shouldn’t allow police or any other school official to do the same.

About the Author

No more charity for racial insensitivity

Erica Rucker is LEO Weekly’s Arts & Entertainment Editor. In addition to her work at LEO, she is a haphazard writer,  photographer, tarot card reader, and fair to middling purveyor of motherhood. Her earliest memories are of telling stories to her family and promising that the next would be shorter than the first. They never were. You can follow Erica on Twitter, but beware of honesty, overt blackness and occasional geeky outrage.

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