WAHS: Controversial Poster Part of Class Studying 'To Kill A Mockingbird'

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Western Albemarle High School Western Albemarle High School
Darah Bonham Darah Bonham
Facebook post by Chad White, coach with Fluvanna County High School Facebook post by Chad White, coach with Fluvanna County High School

An incident involving a poster with hateful words and imagery at Western Albemarle High School (WAHS) is making waves on social media.

The school is investigating what led to a poster with a racial slur being found in a room used by athletes following a basketball game Monday, February 19.

Members of the Fluvanna County High School women's basketball team tell NBC29 the poster was also covered in images of the Ku Klux Klan and guns.

The visiting players were using an English classroom at WAHS as their locker room because multiple games were happening at the high school. Team members say they spotted the poster and believed it was directed toward them.

WAHS says the English class is studying the novel "To Kill A Mockingbird," and that the class is analyzing themes of racial tension and injustice at the time the novel was written.

Charlottesville activist Tanesha Hudson is asking parents to attend the Albemarle County School Board meeting on Thursday, February 22, to address the issue. She says that there are a million different ways to teach the novel that don't include using racial slurs, and that the teacher should explain this assignment to the public.

"I want all of these parents to come to the school board meeting on Thursday at Albemarle County at 6:30, public comment at 8:51," says Hudson. "We need to be there and let them know this is unacceptable."

The school says the poster was on a student's desk and was removed before any pictures could be taken, and it wasn't intended to be seen in this context. Hudson, however, questions why the poster was allowed in a room designated for a basketball team's use in the first place. She says the room should have been off-limits during the game.

"The student had brought a poster in yesterday afternoon, and had not been turned in or evaluated by the teacher, but happened to be in the classroom laid on the desk at the time upon which the Fluvanna team came in it was then obviously noticed. It was noticed a little later at the time they were in there, and obviously raised concerns," said WAHS Principal Darah Bonham.

Bonham says the incident was unfortunate, and believes there was no intent to offend anyone.

NBC29 also asked the principal about the possibility of somebody planting the poster in the classroom during the game, and he said that was highly unlikely. He says the team discovered it during half time and then reported it after the game.

Hudson says incoming superintendent Matt Haas told her that he believes that the poster was placed there by Western Albemarle cheerleaders, though Haas has specifically refuted this point in a conversation with NBC29 Tuesday evening. 

The incident remains under investigation.

02/20/2018 Statement from Incoming Superintendent Matt Haas:

I apologize for any confusion or blame my discussion with Ms. Hudson may have caused. When I spoke to her earlier today at about 12:30, I was sharing a speculation that was made earlier by school officials, and I did not have all the latest facts. I did advise Ms. Hudson that the incident was still under investigation.

I spoke to Principal Bonham later today, at approximately 3:30, and he shared with me the conclusions of his investigation, which are shared here at the end of this story. They are the most accurate facts of the case.

Again, I apologize, specifically to the Western Albemarle Cheerleaders; my comments were not an official statement, but I should not have made them to a caller while an investigation was incomplete.

02/20/2018 Statement from Western Albemarle High School:

Western Albemarle High School has been in contact with Fluvanna school officials to express our concern over an incident last evening when a poster with racially sensitive images was found in a classroom being used by the Fluvanna High School girls' basketball team.

At the end of the game, the Fluvanna players brought the poster to the attention of their coaches. Western administrators immediately began an investigation that has continued throughout today.

This classroom is used during the school day by English classes that are currently analyzing the novel "To Kill a Mockingbird." It was determined that the poster was created as part of a project in which students analyze themes from the novel such as racial tension, injustice, and poverty. Students are drafting written and visual depictions of these complex themes. A student left the poster they are working on in the classroom, on a desk, at the end of the school day.

The poster has not yet been completed or reviewed by the teacher.

Although there are no indications that the presence of the poster was anything but inadvertent, we want to use this instance to reaffirm our support for our school's values of respect, community and excellence. Any actions, at any time that are contrary to these values will not be tolerated.

We appreciate the cooperation and support of stakeholders, including Fluvanna staff and administrators, in bringing this to our attention.