Kia Hall Hayes, Times-Picayune, November 20, 2008
That experience was not mirrored, however, at some other public schools in St. Tammany Parish. According to interviews with many students and school administrators in the past week, some teachers not only avoided talk of the election, but also banned students from discussing it or mentioning Obama’s name.
“It’s racial, ” Davis [Greater Covington NAACP President James “Gus” Davis] said afterward. “We have a person that’s black that made president. This is the South, this is a completely Republican parish.”
The administration is investigating the allegations, which Sloan [Superintendent Gayle Sloan] said may have resulted from an attempt to prevent arguments between students on opposing sides of the political fence. “Teachers are human and they sometimes make mistakes,” she said.
Tammany for McCain
In the presidential election, St. Tammany Parish voted for Republican candidate John McCain over Obama 76 percent to 22 percent. African-Americans are 13 percent of the population, with white people making up 84 percent, according to a 2006 census update.
In some cases, students said they were threatened with punishment if they talked about the election.
“She said that if we did talk about (the election) she’d write us up,” 14 year-old Briana Seals, who is black, said of a teacher at Slidell Junior High School.
In Covington, parent Dominique Elzy, who is black, said she complained to the principal at E.E. Lyon Elementary School after her 7-year-old son told her that he was made to stand along the playground wall after he shouted, “Obama won!” during recess.
Lyon Principal Jeanine Barnes, who is white, said Wednesday that she investigated the complaint and found inconsistencies in the boy’s story, adding, “Our school does not advocate prejudice.”
Kasey Terrebonne, a senior at Slidell High School who is white, said Principal William Percy announced two days after the election that some students had received detention for discussing it.
Reached for comment, Percy, who is white, disputed that he banned political discussion and that students were punished.
Rachel Weaver, a senior at Northshore High School in Slidell and a white Obama supporter, said teacher and peer bias made her reluctant to voice her opinions. Some students used racial slurs to refer to the president-elect and her American history teacher simply ignored the election, Weaver said.
“It was pretty tense most of the time,” she said.
Davis, with the NAACP, said he and ministers from churches in Mandeville, Covington, Madisonville and Folsom, as well as with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta, requested the meeting with Sloan after hearing complaints.
“I know they want to keep problems down, but they’re going about it the wrong way,” said Davis. Students “have a right to be proud that a black man won.”
Letting passions die
Sloan, who began hearing reports from parents last week, said she has talked with principals and sent out an e-mail reminding them of the importance of letting students express their feelings about the election.
Principals were not told to prohibit election discussion, “but there were schools where principals and teachers made decisions that, because students were being acrimonious about it, to hold off on talking about it, and let passionate feelings die down,” she said.