Group urges Charleston Co. Schools to answer for ‘racial intimidation,’ ‘hostile environment’

Published: Aug. 15, 2022 at 3:48 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 15, 2022 at 4:21 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Racial Justice Network is calling for changes in the Charleston County School District and answers for recent instances of what it calls racial intimidation.

Members with the group gathered with Rep. Wendell Gilliard and former employees to talk about what they are calling racial intimidation incidents. Speakers said they wanted to talk about the hostile environment people of color face working within the district.

Gilliard and Racial Justice Network CEO James Johnson met with Superintendent Don Kennedy. They said group discussed the recent release of Dr. Erica Taylor, asking why she wasn’t given another position in the district, not just let go, when her position was dissolved.

A press release from the Racial Justice Network cites Taylors longevity with the district.

“And, while the district continues to look for qualified minority employees, why wasn’t Dr. Taylor considered for another position in the reorganization?” the release states.

The network also called on the superintendent to look into alleged racially-charged actions towards a former teacher at Buist Academy, Louise Jenkins. Jenkins says she felt uncomfortable in her school because staff would leave racially insensitive books and props at her workstation. She documented the incidents with pictures and says she reported them to an advisor.

Jenkins says she wants to serve the Charleston area, but felt she had to leave because of a hostile environment.

“We need SEL, or Social Emotional Learning Programs, available not just to students but to teachers. We need racial sensitivity training because I did not attend a single one this year,” Jenkins said. “We need policies put in effect, with teeth, that reinforce rules about this type of behavior. If you do this you’re going to be out the door, we don’t want you influencing our students.”.

Jenkins walked through a timeline of offensive books, papers and props with monkey motifs and hairstyle references during the conference. She showed pictures of items, explaining she documented each time something happened that made her uncomfortable.

“It’s something that we really need to take heed to. I think it’s inappropriate. Teachers are spending a long part of the day with our kids so what happens needs to be addressed,” Jenkins said.

The group also invited Jason Lee to speak about his personal experience applying for a job at the district. Lee says he was offered a job and then later the offer was retracted without reason. He says he wants answers about his situation as a young black man who wants to be a part of teaching children in the district.

“I am a student that came up through the ranks of Charleston County,” Lee said. “I even faced discrimination with my teachers back them. There’s nothing I wanted more than to bring forward and represent a new era of change.”

The district released the following statement in response to the news conference:

Charleston County School District takes all claims of racial discrimination seriously. We have followed and will continue to follow proper protocols to appropriately address any personnel issues related to allegations of this nature.

The Racial Justice Network is hoping to see efforts from Superintendent Don Kennedy and says if they don’t get answers or a plan for the future, they will call on the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to investigate specific situations.

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