Bay County NAACP speaks out against racism at local schools

Published: Sep. 22, 2022 at 11:03 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) -Members of the Bay County NAACP are speaking out about what they call racism in local schools and they say they want something done about it. They held a press conference on Zoom Thursday afternoon to call for change.

“The district has a responsibility to create a safe and secure learning environment for our children. An environment that is free of hate. That is free of bigotry, and that is free of harmful language,” Dr. Rufus Wood, President of Bay County NAACP, said.

This all comes after a teacher reportedly said a racial slur at Mowat Middle School a few weeks ago. At that time, the principal sent out an alert.

Text of the Everbridge alert sent to parents/guardians:

This is Ed Sheffield, Principal of Mowat Middle School, with an important school update for our parents and guardians. Earlier today, we received reports that one of our new faculty members was reading aloud to the class and neglected to redact the “n word” from the text she was reading. We are extremely sorry this happened and this is certainly not the kind of role modeling and reading aloud we expect from our faculty members. The staff member in question is very apologetic and understands how hurtful, and inappropriate, that word is and we are taking steps to ensure this does not happen again. If your student heard the word directly, or was told about the incident by another student, we sincerely apologize and we want to make sure you know that this was a reference in a text and not a comment made directly to, or about, a student. While that distinction doesn’t lessen the offense, we do want you to understand clearly what happened and why it happened and we want you to know we are aware and are addressing it with the faculty member. Thank you for your continued support and understanding.

But the author of the book, Rodman Philbrick commented on our Facebook page stating:

“Hello, my name is Rodman Philbrick and I wrote the book in question. This incident just came to my attention and I want it to be known that the n-word is nowhere in the book. Period. I would never use that word in any book, let alone one intended for middle schoolers. I am disturbed that no one at the school or the TV news bothered to check. I don’t know why happened in the classroom but that word is not in my book!”

Rod Philbrick Facebook response to Mowat Middle School story posted on September 2, 2022.
Rod Philbrick Facebook response to Mowat Middle School story posted on September 2, 2022.(Allison Baker)

The book in question is titled ‘Zane And The Hurricane. A Story of Katrina’. Newschannel 7 downloaded a copy, and also could not find the derogatory word in question.

So we asked Bay District Schools, did the teacher read the ‘n-word’ in the text or did the teacher add it in?

The district sent us an email stating, “We shared the information we had been given at the time. "

“When they are required to sit in that classroom as a captive audience they cannot get up like adults and just leave. They are required to see the teacher saying the n-word that wasn’t even in the book the teacher was reading,” attorney Rawsi Williams said.

NAACP leaders say something must be done.

“It is my hope that Bay County is not only going to move aggressively but assertively to ensure that every black child in that entire school district does not have to sit in a racially hostile and toxic environment,” Williams said.

They want action taken immediately.

“How many times have we requested that the Bay County School District, they would do the same, that they would denounce and condemn racism in our schools, But all we get is weak statements and apologies,” Dr. Wood said.

Following the press conference we reached out to Bay District Schools Director of Communications Sharon Michalik for an on-camera interview with a district official, but she declined. Instead, Michalik sent us a statement.

Full Bay District Schools Statement:

“We share the community’s concerns over the unfortunate incident involving the racial slur and the book and we’ve taken steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again. We immediately contacted the parents and guardians of students at the school involved to let them know that we don’t tolerate that kind of language in our schools and we apologized sincerely. We were also in contact with Mr. Bostick and others who reached out to us about our efforts and the steps we were taking. The teacher no longer works for us and we have closed the investigation into this situation.”

NewsChannel 7 had follow-up questions to this statement.

1. When was the last date the teacher worked with the district?

2. Was the teacher moved to another school after the incident?

3. Did the teacher quit or was the teacher fired?

4. What is the district doing to ensure something like this does not happen again?

In repsonse Michalik said, “I have no additional information other than the statement previously sent.

Local NAACP leaders have an attorney in place, and they say they will take legal action to create change if necessary.

“The time for half measures by this school district has passed. It’s over. This is not really an option that they have it not an option to do better the law requires that they do better,” Williams said.

NewsChannel 7 will stay on top of this story and let you know if any other action is taken, or if we can get any more response from the district.