Two teachers at a Texas middle school gave “Ghetto Awards” to special education students. Awards season is usually a time of celebration, but at least one family was angered to learn that their son, who attends Sulphur Springs Middle School, was the recipient of such an insulting certificate. According to the certificate, this has been going on for eight years.
The certificates were handed out by two teachers, Mr. Couch and Mrs. Garner, who signed the awards and forged the principal’s name. The 14-year-old was among other eighth-grade recipients who all have some level of learning challenge. The school’s principal apologized, calling the behavior embarrassing and unacceptable and has issued a statement of apology to all who were offended.
Michael Lamb, Sulphur Springs superintendent, has also apologized and said this is not anything the school system is proud of. Lamb understands how the behavior of the teachers can be viewed as racist and offensive and stated, “There is really no other way to see it.” He added:
It is something this teacher did for six years in a prior district. It went unnoticed. The teacher who signed the award worked those years as a Special Education teacher in the Carrollton Farmers-Branch school district before transferring to the Sulphur Springs school district.
The teen said the award upset him and caused him to feel inferior to his classmates. Parents of the students have said the use of the word “ghetto” is hurtful because it carries a negative connotation when referencing the African-American community. The teachers who gave the Ghetto Awards to Special Ed students claim they had no knowledge the term was considered derogatory and did not mean any harm by their actions.
The current use of the word is different from its origin, and once referred to the quarter in a city, primarily Italy, to which Jews were restricted. Ghettos in Venice were home to prosperous merchants and, in Warsaw, they housed resistance fighters, but in poor, black neighborhoods they were often home to a culture of people who were reduced to a life of poverty. The slang reference to ghetto culture does not speak of anything positive but refers to an impoverished community of neglected, disadvantaged residents who have been restricted to poor behavior, poverty and crime.
News of the Ghetto Award spread quickly, angering many who heard about it. One person said the reason the school got away with it for so long is because many black people do not like to read, and other black Texans have the “White man is right” mentality and refused to question it. Another reader named Haji Khalid Abdullah stated:
Black People will have to do like the Jews, Arabs and Asians and build/ invest in your own schools. You cannot keep forcing people who have no respect for you to educate your children.
The teen’s grandmother, Debra Jose, said she was very disturbed by it. She cried and had trouble sleeping because she wants the best – not just for her grandson, but all children. After seeing the Ghetto Award, Jose said:
I had to take a second look. I was like, really? How could a teacher put this on there; did she just say ghetto on a certificate that she was giving my grandson?
Further investigation revealed another offensive award titled, “The ‘Huh’ Award.” This certificate was given out at least 50 times over the years to students who used the word “huh” when they were confused in class. Lamb admitted he was shocked to learn of these awards, which were not sanctioned by the school.
Two teachers at Sulphur Springs Middle School gave out “Ghetto Awards” to students in their special education class. Lamb said he has now learned the awards were given to nearly 60 kids last year. The school has apologized, launched a full investigation and is in the process of meeting with the teachers who were involved.
By Cherese Jackson (Virginia)
NewsOne News: So This Happened: Texas Teachers Hand Out “Ghetto” Award Certificates To 8th Graders
WTSP: Texas school gives students “Ghetto Classroom Awards”
NPR: Segregated From Its History, How ‘Ghetto’ Lost Its Meaning
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