The Black Student Union at DuPont Manual High School, which was formed four years ago to help African-American students excel at a competitive institution where most of the students, staff and administrators are predominantly white, found itself at odds on Thursday evening at a town hall organized by Black Lives Matter Louisville.
BSU president Quintez Brown said his group never intended to do anything but foster a positive, equitable environment at the magnet school. But the BSU has been in the midst of controversy since a secret recording of Manual Principal Gerald “Jerry” Mayes making racially insensitive remarks went public earlier this month.
The situation has caused division within whole Manual community, but the conflict within the BSU was especially apparent at the town hall.
The discussion revolved around the recording, the issues that arose from its release and the sometimes troubling environment for minority and gay students at Manual.
BSU members made comments for and against maintaining Mayes in his role as principal. Brown said there is a continuing debate within the group about the future of the principal.
“Mayes has had different relationships with different people in the black student union. At the end of the day, we all want every student to have a voice and to foster a school environment where everyone can feel comfortable. This was never about getting Principal Mayes,” he added.
Brown said personally he has not had anything but positive interactions with the principal. But the BSU made the decision to start recording Mayes in September after receiving complaints from students who had uncomfortable interactions with the principal.
These concerns spilled outside the school after a social activist released a secret recording made by two students who were complaining to Mayes about Football Coach Scott Carmony who they said was not allowing student trainers to kneel during the national anthem to protest racial injustice and police brutality in America as others have across the nation over the last year.
In the recording, Mayes told the students that while they have a First Amendment right to kneel, they should not “jump on the bandwagon.” Mayes, who at one time worked at St. Xavier High School, noted that others had faced discrimination that is just as bad as African-Americans, including himself as a Protestant in a Catholic community.
In a statement after the recording was reported by Insider, Mayes said he was “deeply committed to diversity and inclusion.”
What’s more, Mayes said in his statement: “At Manual, we raise thinkers who question and challenge. I am proud of our students, their activism and their commitment to do what’s right. I have learned an important lesson from them – to listen more and talk less.”
Mayes was reprimanded by Jefferson County Public Schools for comments he made in the recording about other school employees including JCPS chief equity officer John Marshall. JCPS spokeswoman Allison Gardner Martin told Insider that no other action was expected until the system completed a comprehensive culture and climate audit at Manual.
On Tuesday, BSU members led a 1960s sit-in demanding Mayes resign immediately. At last night’s town meeting, it was obvious that not everyone was happy with the message of the event. Dalen Horton, a senior at Manual and a member of the BSU, said he had known Mayes most of his life as a family friend. In a passionate statement, Horton begged the audience not to jeopardize the man’s legacy and livelihood over one mistake.
In an interview after the meeting, Horton said: “Not everyone agrees with what the (BSU) board is doing. A lot of this is being blown out of proportion. I know that this man has humbled himself and he realizes what he said was wrong. This should not end his career.”
Aris Spagnuolo, head of Manual’s Gay-Straight-Transgender Alliance, said Mayes had a long history of demeaning historically marginalized and oppressed groups.
“Unsolicited, inappropriate comments and questions about a student’s genitalia, asked by an adult, have no place in our school as it is borderline harassment. … Intentionally or otherwise, Mr. Mayes has undoubtedly abused his position of power, opting to foster an emotionally and mentally unsafe environment for his students,” Spagnuolo said at the meeting.
The senior added other students and staff felt emboldened to make derogatory remarks to minority and gay students because of the atmosphere Mayes created. There have also been anonymous complaints against the principal posted to the Dear JCPS website.
The BSU does not plan any other action until JCPS completes its investigation. Brown said he hoped the final outcome of all the controversy was an improved environment at Manual — with or without Mayes.
Dushonta and Monica Thompson attended the town hall to learn the specifics of what is going on at the school. The parents of a Manual sophomore, they said they were troubled by reports of Mayes’ behavior. Monica Thompson said: “My daughter is like most students at Manual, a good kid that usually flies under the radar, so the things that are going on there are unusual. I want to see a full investigation of all of these allegations. I want to know if there is a pattern that needs to be addressed.”