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Some Powhatan students say they 'feel alone,' face discrimination in classrooms: 'It affects us pretty badly'

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Posted at 7:34 PM, Jun 17, 2024

POWHATAN, Va. -- More Powhatan County public school students are coming forward to share their stories about discrimination they say they have experienced in the classroom.

Two middle school and elementary school students, who have asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, say they no longer feel safe at school.

“People who have experienced this have felt like their life isn’t important anymore," one of the students said. “It’s taken away their confidence a little bit it has made it feel like they can't do what they’ve always wanted to do and their goals are harder to reach,"

“It’s not okay and it affects us pretty badly," another said.

Some Powhatan Public School students say these are emotions they are experiencing following alleged discrimination in their classrooms.

“It’s made me feel alone and that I'm smaller than them," another student said.

These three students asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.

But they didn’t want that fear to silence what they feel is a reality for many students of color like them.

“They go around school pointing to people and saying they are Black."

“'You belong on a farm' they say things like the N-word, they say it in different variations."

These students hope their story will be heard as school board members vote Tuesday to potentially make changes to the district's rights and responsibilities policy.

The policy is being reviewed following an outcry from families sharing their own experiences with discrimination after a viral photo allegedly showed a racial slur written on a student’s arm.

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“It’s important for people to know what is happening and how it is affecting us.”

Some community members are unhappy with the school board's proposed changes to the policy because it would remove a definition of hate speech.

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Even though the school district gave suggestions for a definition and the NAACP called for one to be added as well.

The board says they removed it because there is no clear definition of "hate speech" in Virginia or the federal code.

They also say that other portions of the document clearly define what the punishment is if a student uses racially harassing language or slurs.

"We want to be consistent and clear, and what’s hate speech for one might not be hate speech for another, and there’s no clear code definition either," Vice Chair of the Powhatan School Board Vicki Hurt said.

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Vicki Hurt

The school board did discuss ways to ensure existing discrimination rules are enforced with greater consistency and is considering strengthening punishment.

These students hope the board will hear their concerns.

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