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Harmless Joke or Racist Rhetoric?



black student, Houston principal, black excellence

This Houston principal made a gun joke about a black student — but is it just a joke?

Ponderosa Elementary School Principal, Shanna Swearingen, has come under fire for a disappointing remark she made about a black special-needs student. Swearingen, told her staff “We will call the police and tell them he has a gun, so they can come faster.” The comment was made because the student has been known to run from class.

Swearingen has not made herself available to media, but she sent a letter to school parents on Tuesday apologizing for “an insensitive comment that was not reflective of who I am nor how much I care about every student who attends this school.”

Her full statement:

“Your children mean the world to me, and I’m heartbroken that my thoughtless remark has caused disruption to the hard work underway here at Ponderosa. Here in our community, we had a hard year with Hurricane Harvey, and the damage it caused to a large part of our neighborhood. I was so proud of the unity seen in this community during the recovery efforts.“Please know that the same commitment and drive that I had to make things right for our children after the storm, I have today as I work to make things right now with both staff and parents. I am truly sorry for the comment I made. It does not in any way reflect the love and care I have for the students of Ponderosa.”

The Spring Independent School District sent out a statement on Monday, calling Swearingen’s comment “thoughtless and insensitive” and adding that “while the comment was made in jest, it was inappropriate and should never have been made.” The district will continue to monitor the school climate at Ponderosa to ensure that incidents like this do not occur again.”

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Nobody has said if Swearingen was disciplined over the incident. The school district said that it takes “matters of this nature very seriously” but that it does not “discuss disciplinary action pertaining to personnel matters.”

The problem with this story is that those kinds of comments are not jokes. They’re actual threats on someone’s life. As real as school shootings are, and as often as blacks are shot by cops, how could this be in jest? She is a white woman in a high position of power in the state of Texas. This woman is aware of police brutality. It is apparent to her that the police will act with excessive force if you tell them there is a black individual with a gun. She understands they perceive that as a threat. I don’t care what anyone says, she knew what she was saying.

We need to protect students of color, particularly those who receive special education services, from people who think this is funny. This is especially infuriating because abuse of black kids in special ed programs is a huge problem. They make up a disproportionate percentage of EBD classification, which means they’re more likely to be physically restrained. It’s no secret that these types of children are difficult to teach. However, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be handled with compassion and care. Anyone who cannot, should not be working in special education.

What do you think? Harmless joke or racist rhetoric?