Guest Commentary, Carlo DiMaria, November 23, 1996, Post Dispatch


The Nov. 20 editorial, "Language Lesson From Cissy Lacks," missed a very important part of this whole scenario. Although it focused on the language used in the classroom in writing assignments, it missed the 33 percent of the verdict (financially speaking) that said Lacks was wronged by racial and sexual discrimination. She was targeted by her principal, Vernon Mitchell, because she was a white female teaching black young men.

Regardless of which side of the issues one chooses, I don't think anyone would disagree with the decision against reaching a settlement with Lacks early on. Even the attorneys among us would say it's anybody's guess as to what is the right thing to do. Our School Board saw defending the suit as the way to go, and so be it. Now the board has another difficult decision to make: what to do with Mitchell. Let's not miss the fact that Mitchell cost his employers (the taxpayers) a quarter of a million dollars. Not many employers would keep someone around who just cost them that enormous amount of money.

By sweeping this blatant racism under the rug or giving it short shrift, what signal are we giving to our children, our young adults? Is it OK to be racist because Mitchell is black and Lacks is white, and a female to boot? Is it OK to smudge the memory of fine educators like Roger Bredenkamp who helped guide this district during its integration? Educators who were a part of one of the first desegregation experiments in our state and the country did a fine job of keeping the peace and  educating the children of the time, myself included.

The educators who are part of the Ferguson-Florissant School District today, as a whole, do a fine job for the taxpayers. One of my daughters graduated from McCluer North and attends college with grants and scholarship funds gained with the education she received in the district. Her educators, black and white, all pulled together for her benefit, and for that I am grateful. At no time did I see any tolerance for the type of behavior and attitude exhibited in this case by Mitchell. I wouldn't want him as a part of my daughter's education experience. You can wash out a person's mouth but not his mind.

What is confusing to me is that I hear our district superintendent interviewed on KMOX and he mentions nothing whatsoever about disciplining Mitchell the same way the board disciplined Lacks. The board fired Lacks after only a sham of a hearing and now has been found liable for its actions. Mitchell should be held to no less stringent a standard than Lackswas.

With this verdict in federal court coming close on the heels of the findings of Texaco's despicable actions, I would have thought we would hear some sort of outrage that this type of attitude and behavior was alive and well in our schools. I certainly wouldn't expect the Rev. Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton to be leading a march down Waterford Drive. I would expect that our School Board would have the backbone to look racism in the face and spit in its eye. Instead, board members are deciding how much more of our money they should spend on a losing proposition.

This is one taxpayer in the district who is proud of where it has been, proud of what it has done recently and outraged that this behavior has been allowed to continue this long. I call for the Ferguson-Florissant School District to hold Mitchell accountable for his behavior and to do it swiftly and publicly.

Without the message that we will not tolerate this behavior from anyone, how else can our children learn to judge someone on the content of their character instead of the color of their skin?