Bud Kennedy

Nobody’s laughing over teachers’ ‘Ghetto Awards’

Sulphur Springs Middle School
Sulphur Springs Middle School Sulphur Springs-Hopkins County Economic Development Corporation

It was one of those Facebook posts that had to be fake, but it wasn’t.

A Sulphur Springs Middle School student brought home an odd end-of-school certificate Wednesday: a “Ghetto Classroom Award.”

“Can you believe anyone in the education profession would extend a demeaning award like this?” his mother wrote in a post, with photo, shared more than 1,200 times.

The official-looking certificate, printed with a gold leaf border, named her son as winner of “The ‘Huh?’ Award,” with initials of a teacher and a principal.

I know what you’re thinking.

But all involved agree two teachers gave “Ghetto Classroom Awards” to children of all colors as thoughtless jokes, not a racist insult.

“I never felt like it was racist, and I didn’t try to play a race card,” said Jerrika Dabbs, the mother whose Facebook comment went viral around the world from Northeast Texas to reports in New York and London newspapers.

“It was just demeaning,” said Dabbs, from an established Sulphur Springs family of educators.

“No child should be made fun of that way.”

Both her son’s English teacher, who is also an Assemblies of God pastor, and a special-education teacher have apologized, she said by phone Friday. School officials have denied any involvement and will present findings to the school board Monday night.

According to Dabbs and social-media posts, other students were given “Ghetto Awards” such as the “I Slept Through Tutorials Award” or the “Falling-Apart Journal Award.”

Dabbs said another son wins academic awards, and she watched this child struggle to pass STAAR accountability tests.

“To see him made fun of for saying, ‘Huh?’— that is making fun of his behavior in a way that is not positive for the child.”

Dabbs said she accepted the apologies and wants to put the topic to rest, even as commenters around the world bombard the district and teachers’ social-media pages to complain about the “ghetto” reference.

According to Tyler TV station KLTV, Sulphur Springs Superintendent Michael Lamb said he was shocked “in layers.”

Even without the ghetto name, he said, a “Huh?” award “just brings more questions.”

One of the teachers may have given the mocking “awards” at a previous job in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch schools, he said.

Dabbs said she’s heartened by the support.

“I started telling people,” she said, “and they told me, ‘You ought to put a picture of that on Facebook.’”

Call it a lesson.

Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538

Twitter: @BudKennedy

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