Jeers of ‘slave,’ ‘cotton pickers’ taunt kids at area school

By Ray Richardson

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — Parents of several bi-racial children attending school in the Inland Empire have hired the Cochran Firm in Los Angeles in response to ongoing racial taunts and derogatory displays aimed at their children by fellow students.

According to the children victimized by the questionable behavior at Pepper Tree Elementary School in Upland — 36 miles east of Los Angeles — the taunts have included artwork bearing the words “You’re My Favorite Cotton Picker” and “You’re My Favorite Slave.” One of the targeted children said a card titled “Golden N- – – – r Pass” had been passed around the school by other students.

“These innocent children have been subjected to heinous, racial attacks at their school,” said James Bryant, a partner with the Cochran Firm. “The parents put the school district on notice with numerous complaints, but nothing happened. The district will now have to pay the consequences for not protecting these young children.”

On behalf of four families, the Cochran Firm is preparing to file a claim for damages against the Upland Unified School District, which is located in San Bernardino County. Bryant said the claim of damages is the first step toward a potential lawsuit against the school district for civil rights violations.

This is the second high-profile case in as many weeks regarding harassment of minority students. The mother of an eighth-grade boy at Bethune Middle School in South Los Angeles reported the display of a fake memorial inside the school that claimed her son had been shot and killed by gang members.

Parents and the targeted children at Pepper Tree appeared together at a press conference Feb. 27 to outline the abuses and lack of response from school staff and the school district. Parents and their children fought back tears while describing their ordeal.

Marlene Reynoso, mother of 13 year-old Chloe Jenkins, a sixth-grader at Pepper Tree, said she pulled Chloe out of the school after her daughter received a card on Feb. 2 labeling her “My Favorite Cotton Picker.”

“I don’t know why they feel that way,” Jenkins said of the card.

Parents from the four families reported incidents that happened in early February and in previous weeks. In a timeline posted on the school district’s website, district officials claimed they were not aware of any harassment before the Feb. 2 incident.

The district has elevated its response in the aftermath of increased media coverage of the reported harassments. A statement was released to the media promising an investigation and Pepper Tree Principal Becki Modereger sent an email on Feb. 16 to the entire district staff and the parents of all students.

“There have been reported incidents of students not exemplifying our values and using hurtful hate speech toward their peers,” Modereger wrote in her email.Although students may not understand the deep meaning of their words and actions, it is vital to emphasize that hate speech, discriminatory behavior and racial slurs have no place at Pepper Tree Elementary Please note that all complaints regarding bullying, harassment, hate speech,and racism will be thoroughly investigated. And appropriate disciplinary actions will be taken in accordance with California Education Codes.”

Since the Feb. 27 press conference, a spokesperson for the Cochran Firm said officials from Pepper Tree and the school district had not offered a response. Raising awareness of the incidents, however, prompted the district to post several documents on its website regarding the allegations and plans to address the problem.

One district statement indicated that parents of two students believed to be involved in the harassment have been contacted and made aware of the extent of the allegations.

Parents of the victimized students expressed concern about the district’s disciplinary action. The parents shared the belief that one or two of the students involved in the harassment are children of staff or faculty at Pepper Tree.

“When the children of staff are doing this, how do you fix the system?” Bryant said. “How can you change a system when administrators and teachers are part of the problem?”

Modereger and district officials could not be reached for comment.

Rome and Maylana Douglas have four bi-racial children attending Pepper Tree and each has complained of various forms of harassment at the school. Rome Douglas, an African-American, said he and his wife were told several weeks ago by a district official that all faculty and staff would be required to go through diversity training to help them deal with racial harassment incidents.

Douglas said he learned last week that the training has not been implemented.

“To hear from your kids that they don’t want to go to school because of all this is very disheartening,” Rome Douglas said. “I’ve never been called the names my kids have been subjected to. To me, this stuff is criminal.”

Ray Richardson is a contributing writer to The Wave. He can be reached at rayrich55@gmail.com.

       
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