Sex ed 101

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 8, 2003

Apparently, the Hertford County Public School system has become a place to learn more than just reading, writing and arithmetic.

While the system ranks near the bottom in the state as far as SAT scores are concerned, it is one of North Carolina’s leaders when it comes to sensational news stories. Two of those stunning stories have recently emerged from this system of secondary education, both coming from Hertford County High School.

First are allegations by four male students that they were sexually abused by former HCHS principal Larry Ellis Jr. Those allegations of crimes against nature allegedly occurred on the HCHS campus, dating back as far as September of last year. The latest allegation was reported this past June.

Ellis, who resigned in May, waived probable cause in the case during an appearance in Hertford County District Court last week. The case will now be sent to the Hertford County Grand Jury.

Two days following Ellis’ day in court, four Hertford County High School students were arrested and charged with a first-degree sexual offense against an underage female. Allegedly, the incident occurred on school property, reportedly in one of the classroom trailers adjacent to the main building, on the afternoon of Aug. 27.

But here’s the &uot;kicker&uot; concerning those arrests. If the crime was committed and reported on Aug. 27, then why did it take school officials to Thursday of last week (Sept. 4) to suspend three of the four alleged sexual aggressors (the fourth was suspended one day later, Friday, Sept. 5)? Could it have anything to do with the fact that three of the suspects were members of the school’s varsity football team? Two of the three were defensive starters, including one that is the son of one of the assistant coaches.

For those that know me, I’m a longtime fan of amateur athletics, especially prep sports. But in the same breath, I’m a longtime activist of fair play. No person – male or female; white or black – should be treated any differently just because they can run faster or jump higher than a classmate.

I’m not saying the delay in the suspensions is linked to the athletic status of three of the four suspects. I’m only saying that if school administrators were aware of the incident, including knowledge of the exact identity of the four suspects, by no later than Aug. 28, then why wasn’t the foursome suspended immediately?

I’m basing my argument on a story shared to me this past weekend. Seems that sometimes since the start of school, a student arrived on campus some 30 minutes prior to the start of the school day. This student parks their vehicle in the student parking lot where they are approached by a security guard. The guard tells the student they must exit the vehicle and go into the school building. However, knowing there’s still time before the first bell, the student leaves campus, but returns in plenty of time to arrive for their first class.

That student was summoned to the principal’s office and suspended immediately for three days. I don’t know for sure the reason behind the suspension, but my guess is that the student was punished for disobeying an official of the school.

If the student did indeed violate a school regulation by disobeying an official, then the punishment was not only immediate, but also fair. With that scenario in mind, why did it take a week to suspend four students allegedly involved in a crime that, if proven in a court of law, carries a lengthy prison sentence?

We are in serious need of leaders that will address these and other situations with a stern fist and act accordingly. We do not need school officials who are easily influenced by others or who are afraid to make decisions based upon racial preference.

We don’t need white leaders….we don’t need black leaders. We simply need leaders who have the best interests of each and every one of our young people. And while these leaders are at it, please make a concerted effort to attract and retain quality teachers within our public school system. I know that’s a tough task, especially considering Hertford County’s past track record on statewide testing and that we are geographically located in an economically-challenged area of the state (a fancy term for being dirt poor), but you can start by setting a simple example that the recent news to emerge from the Hertford County school system will not be tolerated.

The Hertford County Public School system boasts of a motto where they are in this job of education &uot;for the children.&uot; That’s great; live up to it by at least keeping the sexual predators out of the classroom (or athletic fields) and the front office.