WS/FCS looks to turn students’ ‘racially insulting’ video into a ‘teachable moment’

FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. -- Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools officials confirm that five people shown making racist remarks in a video circulating on social media are Reagan High School students. Now, Superintendent Dr. Beverly Emory is trying to turn the situation into a teachable moment.

School administrators were made aware of the video on Wednesday and took immediate action, they say.

“The video that has surfaced in recent days showing some of our students using racial slurs is completely unacceptable. The language and behavior in this video is alarming. It is offensive and simply not acceptable in our district. We work daily to create an atmosphere that respects and honors ALL students. Regardless of the motivation or intent, such behavior affects us all,” Emory said in a statement.

Cpl. Dwayne Little, of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, says he has three sons; one of whom goes to a high school in the district.

“These are situations for people of different culture backgrounds to come together and to see our differences do not outweigh our likenesses,” said Little, who serves as the roving supervisor for the sheriff's office’s school resource officer unit.

Little says when students are caught making racist remarks, his first thought is often that “someone wasn’t taught” or there’s a “missing moment.”

In other words, although schools often teach that such speech is not acceptable, the language is learned at home.

“We have to stop it, we have to call it out. It can’t be, ‘That’s just how they were raised.’ Those days are over because that’s not how people should be raised,” Little said. “Yeah, they may have been raised wrong, but adults know better. Or they should.”

Emory’s statement continues to say that she is thankful that those responsible for the video were quickly identified once the investigation began.

“While federal law prevents the release of information about any disciplinary action or consequences, please know we do not take these things lightly. We have followed our discipline policies to ensure those involved know this is not representative of who we are,” she said. “This is not something we will tolerate.”

Little added that one bad idea can “spread like wildfire.” Although it appears the students in the video found their statements comical, Little emphasized that hate speech is damaging.

“It is hurtful, especially for your classmates,” he said. “You gotta think about these schools, these schools are very diverse.”

The school district’s policy manual says student speech and expression guidelines are not intended to “limit a student’s right to express his or her thoughts and opinions at reasonable times and places, consistent with the protections of the First Amendment.” However, it adds that in general, “schools may place restrictions on a student's right to free speech when the speech is obscene, abusive, promoting illegal drug use, or is reasonably expected to cause a substantial disruption to the school day.”

The statements made by the students are not considered a crime.

“The speech itself is protected, but when it turns into a threat, a viable threat that is being communicated to another person or persons, that’s when it becomes a crime,” Little said.

Emory’s statement adds that in coming days and weeks, students at Reagan High School will hold discussions about ways the school can highlight and model its district core value of equity.

“We will focus on the importance of honoring the diversity of all students. We will continue the important conversations about the inappropriate use of social media,” she said.

Little agrees that incidents such as these can be used as a lesson.

“We have to come together as humans, we have to come together as Americans,” he said.

Little also emphasized that what’s posted on the internet is there forever.

“The negative story will get a thousand shares, the humble apology will get one like,” he said.

“I never want our students to feel offended or disrespected. I regularly see our students demonstrating incredible acts of kindness and support,” Emory said. “I am so disheartened one video is being seen as a representation of our students when that is just NOT who we are.”

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