A Texas school district has launched an investigation into two middle school teachers' years-long practice of distributing "Ghetto Awards" to children receiving special education services, a CBS affiliate reports.
A 14-year-old Sulphur Springs Middle School student came home from school this week with a certificate that read "8th Annual Ghetto Classroom Awards" on top. The document stated the boy had specifically earned a "huh?" award this year for expressing so much confusion in class. Teachers had handed the certificates out to a classroom of students receiving supportive services for learning disabilities.
The child's mother, Jerrika Wilkins, tells Fox 4 she "felt angry and a bit confused as to what was meant by 'ghetto'," when her son showed her the certificate his teachers had given him. “He feels pretty inferior," Wilkins says of her son's emotional reaction. "You know, he wants to succeed. You know, [the "ghetto" award] just kind of hurt his feelings.” Wilkins posted a picture of the document to Facebook.
Wilkins' social media post caused a stir in the community, and quickly caught the attention of Michael Lamb, superintendent of Sulphur Springs Independent School District. Lamb describes his reaction to learning about the "Ghetto Awards" middle school teachers were mockingly bestowing on students.
"Shocked. Shocked. Truly, it goes in layers," Lamb says. "You kind of ask yourself, had anything else been used, the 'teacher's name' award, would it start to seem more acceptable. The 'huh?' award just begs questions. And then the 8th annual brings questions too." The superintendent adds, "It's my understanding the same award was given last year to up to 60 kids."
Though the principal, Jenna Williams', forged signature is on the bottom of the Sulphur Spring Middle School's"Ghetto Awards" she does not endorse the certificates and denies any prior knowledge of their existence. Wilkins and several family members met with teachers and administrators at Sulphur Spring Middle School. Staff apologized and, according to Fox 4, the affected family accepted their apology.
Fox 4 reports that one of the teachers who signed the "Ghetto Awards" at Sulphur Spring Middle School this year is Tim Couch, who also works as pastor at the Cross Branch Cowboy Church in Sumner, Texas. The other teacher is named Stephanie Garner.
But Wilkins does express concern that her son's teachers don't appear to understand that their annual "Ghetto Awards" were offensive. Wilkins describes the teachers' arguments as, “Ghetto was not supposed to be a malicious intent to degrade,” her son. According to Wilkins, teachers told her the certificate they gave her child "was supposed to be all in fun." But "I didn't take it that way,” Wilkins says.
Debra Jose, the boy's grandmother, says the offensive certificate reminds her of her own experience growing up under Jim Crow laws. "Back in the day, when I was growing up, they segregated us," Jose tells CBS. "They put us in a part where they said we were 'ghetto.' If [the teacher] knew what ghetto meant, she would have never approached that, because, being an African-American, we were always thrown that.”