Hate crime?: Teacher says racially charged vandalism not isolated incident

The Hays administration building displays a poster designating the school district as “No Place for Hate,” as deemed by the Anti-Defamation League. The designation has been sullied after a recent vandalism spree that included racial statements directed toward a black teacher. (Photo by Brenda Stewart)

by KIM HILSENBECK

A black teacher who was the victim of a racially charged weekend vandalism spree at Hays High School is criticizing school administrators’ slow response and says it was not an isolated incident.

After teaching science at Hays High for the past four years, Wanda Murphy says she no longer feels comfortable at Hays CISD. She tendered her resignation two months before the May 19 incident, in which two Hays High freshmen are accused of writing the “N-word” and “Welcome to Hell” and drawing a pentagram on her door.

They also changed the room number to 666 and left urine on the door after they slipped out of a dismissal line during Saturday school, similar to detention, school officials said.

The teens, whose names were not released, were detained on campus two days later and were charged with three state jail felonies: burglary of a building, graffiti of a public school and criminal mischief of a public school, the sheriff’s office reported.

Murphy said she was on her way to work the afternoon of the incident when she received a phone call from a colleague who was already on campus, alerting her to the damage. She said she believes school administrators tried to keep the racially charged information quiet.

“They didn’t handle it,” she said. “My principal did not show up until 1:30 the next afternoon, and he didn’t bring law enforcement with him.”

Murphy is one of only a handful of black employees at Hays High and one of 16 black educators districtwide.

In the aftermath of this new incident, she said the Hays CISD administration moved her departure date ahead two weeks, though she said she discovered this when she was denied access to her classroom files and campus email address. Savoy said the teacher told administrators she would not be returning to work the final week of school; she was not asked to leave.

The district did not publicly address the vandalism until the media learned of it from students and other community members.

The students who were detained, according to Murphy, were identified using video surveillance cameras at the school. She said one student is white, the other Hispanic.

They are both students in her class.

The teens, both 14, committed several other acts of vandalism around the school, according to Savoy. The damage included a fire extinguisher being discharged in a science lab in another hallway, graffiti in several hallways that was not racially offensive, and the concession stand at the baseball field being burglarized.

“Inside the concession stand,” Savoy said, “the students are accused of knocking over equipment and destroying most of the food and condiments.”

Hays County District Attorney Sherri Tibbe is said to be considering whether to add hate crime to that list, bumping up the charges to third degree felonies.

In addition to being detained by law enforcement and facing criminal charges, Savoy said each student has also been assigned the maximum penalty allowed under the Hays CISD student discipline code – immediate placement at the disciplinary alternative campus and possible expulsion.

Hays CISD Superintendent Jeremy Lyon said the district will not tolerate this type of offensive behavior. He is conducting a full investigation into the incident and any larger issues that may come to light because of it, according to Savoy.

“We will not tolerate actions or attitudes that are contrary to the safe, inclusive, respectful environment we strive to achieve,” Lyon said.

At the May 21 Board of Trustees meeting, the same day the two 14-year-old high school students were detained for racially charged vandalism, the Anti-Defamation League recognized Hays CISD for all 22 campuses and the district as a whole earning the “No Place for Hate” designation.

“We’re serious about being a ‘No Place for Hate’ district and we’re proud of that distinction,” said Lyon. “It doesn’t mean we won’t have an incident or issues, but it means there is no place for bigotry or hateful and hurtful speech or actions in Hays CISD.”

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