A handwritten letter by a Tabb Middle School student alleging racial harassment by a peer has gone viral and the York County School Division’s response is receiving the brunt of the backlash on social media.
Zettrona Powell said her 13-year-old son Za’Khari Waddy recounted an incident that took place on the way back from a youth football game Oct. 27. In the letter, Waddy wrote that a peer told him “200 years ago [his] ancestors hung from a tree and after he said that … [Waddy] should hang from a tree.”
Powell said she encouraged her son to write the letter, noting she always encourages her children to express how they feel on paper, and Waddy delivered the original letter to his school’s secretary, who then gave it to the principal, Powell said.
She said the response from Principal Heather Young was immediate, but she said she has been dissatisfied with the school’s response overall, as no supervised meeting has taken place between the students involved in the harassment or their parents.
“Racism starts at home,” Powell said. “Racism is a learned behavior, and I don’t know where they get it from but I want it addressed.”
Powell posted an image of the letter on Facebook the same day Waddy delivered the original, Oct. 28, and the post was shared 120 times. As individuals and organizations offered support and advice, Powell said she decided to reach out to New York Daily News reporter Shaun King, who published Waddy’s letter and broke the story Nov. 12.
The article and the letter have been shared widely on social media and prompted YCSD to publish a statement Nov. 12 asserting “the school administration took immediate steps to investigate the report and that appropriate disciplinary actions were taken,” which could include “short-term suspension, long-term suspension, alternate placement, and expulsion.”
“The York County School Division believes every student is entitled to a safe and welcoming school environment free from discrimination, harassment, intimidation and bullying,” the statement reads. “Racism and bullying have no place in our schools and will not be tolerated.”
This statement, as posted on the YCSD Facebook page, was shared more than 150 times and prompted nearly 300 comments, many of which admonished the school division for publicly responding to the incident only after the Daily News article was published.
Powell said Waddy faced more harassment the day after the Daily News broke the story, encountering students who said he should “kill himself,” that he “deserves” the harassment and that he’s “making it all up.”
However, she said she appreciates the testimonies from former Tabb students who can relate to her family’s situation and the encouragement she has received online.
“We are very humbled that people are reaching out from everywhere, strangers we don’t even know” Powell said. “It’s very uplifting and it brings a smile to my son’s face.”
Despite suggestions that her family leave the community, Powell said they are not going anywhere. She said she received a voicemail yesterday from YCSD Chief Operations Officer Carl James who suggested a meeting with central office staff.
“My son deserves the same education everyone else does at the school,” Powell said. “I’m not leaving, and they’re going to fix this.”