One Viral Video. Two Students. Impacts on Many by Racial Discrimination in NC Classroom

Micah Speed telling his story of being racially harassed in Wake Forest High School

Chapter 1: One Viral Video. Two Students. Impacts on Many by Racial Discrimination in NC Classroom

 On March 3, 2017, a video went viral on Instagram about an altercation between a Black and a white students. It showed Micah Speed, the high school sophomore forcefully pulled down his white classmate from behind by his bookbag, twice. The last time was after the boy called Micah “a black piece of (expletive).” Other students in the crowded hallway were stunned.

The next day, the administrators at Wake Forest High School (WFHS), Wake Forest, NC, promptly suspended Micah for 10 days. To the outside world, it might be fair. After all, he violated the Code of Student Conduct in the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS), the largest school district in North Carolina.

But was it fair?

The incident turned Micah’s world upside down. The world of top school officials and the WFHS administrators was about to change also, reluctantly. Whether they like it or not, the wave of outcry and reform was coming.

Why would a student act out and misbehave in school?

According to Yolanda Speed, their family moved to North Carolina from Chicago to escape from the violence there, ironically. They settled down in Wake Forest, as Micah excelled in football in WFHS.

Micah’s story of discrimination is a perfect case study for one of the reasons why students act out in school: when school officials violate policies themselves by failing to follow the policies.

Nationwide, while school administrators execute zero-tolerance on students’ misbehaviors, many of them oftentimes practice blind-tolerance on their own’s misconducts. Injustice like Micah’s case is usually shoveled under the rug without public knowledge.

Reluctantly, school officials forced themselves to take a hard look at their own’s accountability in Micah’s case, because the viral video was too big to shovel under the rug.

This video is significance. Micah’s case became a landmark case in WCPSS in my opinion. It changed WCPSS employees’ world of accountability – a place that top administrators seldom visit. Such has been the experience of too many students, who are non-white or have disabilities or “different” sexual orientations, along with their parents in the school system. These students often complain about discrimination and bullying from their peers and even school officials. Often, there was no intervention and School Board policies were violated with no consequences.

Bullying victim suspended for violating policy. Would school personnel get suspended for violating policy?

On March 2, 2017, Micah could not tolerate his white classmate’s racial harassment anymore. He snapped and pulled him down twice in front of a hallway of other students.

Three WFHS personnel were directly involved in Micah’s incident: two teachers and one assistant principal.

In an interview with Micah one month after the incident, he alleged that he had been racially harassed by this boy for a couple of months prior to the incident.

Shirley: Do you why this boy picked on you?

Micah: No. I never knew him before. I never had a class with him before that [class].

Shirley: So you said he had been bothering you for 2 months.

Micah: He just made ignorant comments, ignorant conversations.

Shirley: At what point was he allegedly threatening you?

Micah: On the same day that the incident [of him pulling the boy down] happened.

Shirley: Before that day, did he threaten you?

Micah: He made jokes about cutting my [private part] off. It is still ignorant, still threatening.

Shirley: You didn’t touch him?

Micah: I just walked away.

Shirley: When all these happened, the teacher was there witnessing everything?

Micah: Yeah.

Shirley: He heard all that, but he didn’t do anything about the situation?

Micah: No.

Shirley: Did you complain to the teacher?

Micah: Yep. I told him and an Assistant Principal, Cynthia Simons, at one point.

Shirley: So, you told the Assistant Principal that this boy had been bullying you, and she didn’t do anything?

Micah: Yep.

One teacher involved in the case was inside the classroom who witnessed the harassment and bullying against Micah but failed to report to the administrators. Would the administration cite him for violating any school policy?

Another teacher approached Micah after he pulled down his white classmate and as the two students walked away from each other. In the video, one could hear the teacher yelled, “Touch me, touch me” as she challenged Micah to do so and as Micah tried to avoid her. Why did the teacher said what she said?

Mrs. Speed, Micah’s mother, considered the teacher’s manner to be “antagonizing.” Why did she think so? Would the administration agree with her?

Assistant Principal Ms. Cynthia Simons was one administrator that both Micah and Mrs. Speed said they had complained to about the bullying and racist issues that Micah had suffered prior to the March 2 incident. However, there was no physical evidence from either side – the parent-student or the AP – to prove their version of event. Then which side would the school officials assigned to investigate this case believe on?

Why did Micah misbehave? And why did he choose to misbehave publicly for everyone to witness?

 I doubt that the WFHS admin asked these questions when they gave Micah a 10-day suspension. This kind of “why” questions is not routinely asked in WCPSS. Simply because, the Zero-tolerance policy is treated as a zero-question policy. It only aims to punish the act, not engages the brain.

So why did Micah act out? Would school officials rule fairly, including making their own accountable of their wrongdoing? Could Micah’s supporters make a difference in the ruling? Could he survive a toxic environment and finish his sophomore year without further harassment at school? Could the whole incident have been prevented before more than 3 lives were greatly affected? What lesson has everyone learned? Has it made a positive impact and difference in how WCPSS deals with student misbehaviors?

Come ride with me as I chronicled what happened behind-the-scene.

Next, something happened on March 3, 2017, that shocked the WFHS admins as well as top WCPSS school officials. They were not prepared.

To be continued…

Chapter 2: Did the supporters of Micah Speed – victim of discrimination – save him from more suspension days or even arrest?

About the author

Shirley Tang has devoted her life to students’ success. Drawn from personal experience, she founded uCANcomplain – an organization and platform that helps parents with children facing peer/adult bullying and discrimination in K-12 public schools. Shirley is an Educational and Civil Rights Advocate, a Mentor, Journalist, Policy Watchdog for the local community, and Former Educator. Her passion is to empower parents and students in seeking their voice, truth, redress, and school accountability. Shirley’s goal is to equip students for success by ensuring they receive a sound education and equitable opportunities.

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