Month after Powhatan meeting, student says she still faces racism in school: 'It’s making me very hopeless'

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Posted at 11:15 PM, Apr 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-16 15:42:01-04

POWHATAN, Va. -- A Powhatan middle schooler is sharing her story of the discrimination she says she continues to face in her classrooms.

This comes even after a several other students and families in the district say they have endured similar experiences and are calling on the school board to change policies.

Powhatan eighth-grader Yasmine Smith says planning for the future is something she is passionate about.

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Yasmine Smith

She does so while also cheering, singing in her church choir, and participating in leadership activities in school.

"She constantly talks about her next steps. She wants to be something," said Yasmine's mom, Lyndsey. "She already has plans, dreams and inspirations."

Smith says her daughter's driven personality ripples throughout all her involvement at Powhatan Middle School.

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However, things have changed over the last year.

Smith says Yasmine told her she was recently having experiences that made things more challenging for her to pursue her passions.

"It has made me really uncomfortable," Yasmine said.

She says her discomfort began when students at school started talking about the color of her skin.

She claims students often made comments, calling her the N-word, as well as other derogatory terms and racial slurs.

"It just feels very draining because I always have to deal with this stuff and I feel like it is not being stopped," Yasmine said.

And Yasmine is not alone.

A number of other students and their families have brought their concerns before the Powhatan School Board, citing incidents of discrimination and racism across the district.

"They shouldn't be bonding over this trauma they have," Smith said. "There is a responsibility to create a safe environment.

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Lyndsey Smith

At a March school board meeting, board members each made their first public comments on the alleged incidents, condemned them, and called for discipline reform.

They also asked for parents to take responsibility and do more to educate their children.

Yet, no plan or action steps were taken.

This lack of plans for change is what remains a concern for the Smith family.

"Our children are still suffering for a whole month," Smith said.

"It’s making me very hopeless and just to know I still have to attend school and still have to go through this with no one working behind the scenes," Yasmine said.

The Smith family says school administration has met with them to hear concerns about problems and they have asked for suggestions on how to make things better.

They say they have asked for policy changes that would implement harsh consequences followed by education for students, additional staff training, and more direct communication with a student and family on what steps are being taken after an incident is reported.

Still, the Smiths say nothing has changed yet.

"Why keep putting her through that repetitive trauma if you aren't doing anything?" Smith asked.

She says she is following her daughter's lead - Yasmine wants to be a leader in standing up for basic rights of equality.

"I think any parent wants what is best for their child," Smith said. "I want her to learn how to speak up for herself and what she believes in."

CBS 6 reached out to the Powhatan School Board and superintendent for comment.

Superintendent Dr. Beth Teigan sent CBS 6 a statement saying in part that the division is dedicated to providing a space where everyone feels safe and feels like they belong.

She says since the March 18, the district has been working with the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities to establish a plan and timeline to address concerns.

The organization met with administration last week to host a dialogue on respect, understanding and the impact of words. They say this will be continued on all levels from staff to students.

Despite the discrimination Yasmine says she is facing, she says she is doing all she can to prevent it from bringing her down, or stop her from chasing her dreams.

On Tuesday, the Powhatan School Board will hold another meeting. While there is nothing specifically on the agenda that addresses concerns like Yasmine's, the NAACP is calling on community members and families to attend, voice concerns, and show support for students.

Depend on CBS 6 News and for in-depth coverage of this important local story. Anyone with more information can email to send a tip.

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