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School taking strides to ease tension

October 22, 2002|by RICHARD BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - Two Greencastle-Antrim High School students walked out of the building at the close of Monday's classes.

As they walked the girl put her arm around the boy's shoulder. Both were laughing.

The girl was black. The boy was white.

Moments before, a black student riding a bicycle north on Ridge Avenue across from the school was forced from the side of the road into the traffic lane by three male high school students standing on the sidewalk when they made a threatening gesture toward him.

The two incidents point to what is happening between the races in the 852-student high school. Less than 15 of the students are black, School Principal Bonnie Cornelius said.

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On one level, there appears to be tolerance; on another, racial strife.

In the last month, four incidents of racial troubles surfaced in the school, resulting in the suspension of one student and citations issued by the Greencastle Police Department against three students, including the one who was suspended, Cornelius said.

The cases were turned over to juvenile authorities, she said.

The latest incident occurred last week on a school bus when a white student made a derogatory remark referring to white power in the presence of a black student, Cornelius said.

In the earlier incidents, a white student sang the song "Dixie" in the presence of a black student, a gesture was made involving a rope and a threat was made insinuating the use of a shotgun, she said.

Parents of the students involved on both sides and police have been in Cornelius' office over the incidents.

"Parents are very upset over this," she said.

The administrators and faculty have been dealing with the situation, Cornelius said.

A sign on the school office door reads "No put downs accepted here."

Similar signs have been displayed throughout the building by the students' peer assistance group.

Counselors have met with students who have been victimized by the harassment to check on their well-being, she said. Those accused of doing the harassing also have met with school counselors.

Classroom lessons celebrating the differences between the races are being taught and a representative from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Rights Commission will come in to talk to students Nov. 11, Cornelius said.

In addition, Quay Hannah, a recognized speaker on racial intolerance, will speak to the students in an assembly and in small groups sometime next month.

A special task force of students and teachers is being appointed to come up with ideas on how to reduce racial tensions in the school.

Cornelius said the need for tolerance will grow as the community grows.

"This is a nice area," she said. "It has all the things that people want for their families. The community is going to become more diversified and as that happens it may be that students won't have so much to fear. They may become more tolerant."

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