News and Tribune

March 14, 2013

Group protests handling of costume incident

Residents feel students’ actions inferred racism, call for change in leadership

By DANIEL SUDDEATH
daniel.suddeath@newsandtribune.com

NEW ALBANY — A small group of protesters paced the sidewalk in front of the administrative offices of the New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp. Wednesday morning, troubled by what they described as racial insensitivity by school officials. 

During a Feb. 7 basketball game, a group of Highland Hills Middle School students wore gorilla costumes and President Barack Obama masks. School officials have stated that three students participated in the costume wearing, and Superintendent Bruce Hibbard said he did not believe their intention was to offend others. 

However, the four black protesters that walked in front of the administrative offices Wednesday believe the students had racist intentions. 

“It’s 2013, but I have good enough common sense to know that racism won’t die,” said Mattie Jones. 

She is a Louisville resident, but Jones said she has grandchildren and great-grandchildren in the NA-FC school system. Jones said she was disappointed by the response to the incident by school officials. 

New Albany resident Marcia Booker blamed the situation on a lack of leadership. School officials shouldn’t have permitted the students inside the gym dressed in the costumes, and Hibbard should have pushed for more discipline following the episode, she said. 

“This is not the first time this kind of incident has happened,” Booker said. “It shows they are not sensitive to African Americans’ feelings.” 

When contacted by the News and Tribune Wednesday morning, Assistant Superintendent Bill Briscoe was not immediately available for comment. 

He did address the issue during a February meeting of the New Albany chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. 

During that meeting, Briscoe said he understood why the district might have been viewed as insensitive to the matter following media coverage. 

“I’ll say this — what happened was wrong, it was offensive and we know it was hurtful to people. We hope that the three kids and their parents learned from this,” he said. 

Wednesday’s protest was not sanctioned by the NAACP. 

Booker said the responses haven’t been adequate, as she called for a change in leadership, including the dismissal of Hibbard. 

“We feel that we do not matter” to the school system, she said. 

In a February interview with the News and Tribune, Hibbard said he believed the incident was misinterpreted. 

“We wouldn’t tolerate that as a school district. I honestly don’t believe there was any ill will by those students at the game,” he said. 

Highland Hills Principal Steve Griffin said students were encouraged to wear black during the game to coincide with a school spirit event. He said he called the families of the three students the day after the incident and explained to them why the costumes may have been viewed as inappropriate.