HAMLET — A presidential quote has students and parents questioning the status of the free speech in Richmond County’s public schools.
A photo of the Richmond Early College High School yearbook posted to Facebook last Tuesday afternoon shows a female senior’s photo with the quote “Build that wall” attributed to Donald Trump.
The words — referring to building a wall along the Mexican border to curtail illegal immigration — became one of several catchphrases during Trump’s presidential campaign.
“So Richmond county school system allowed this to be printed in their 2017 year book (sic),” wrote Artney Ellerbe, who posted the photo, along with the hashtag #share. “I already knew this city was racist. Get a court date you’ll find out. This doesn’t surprise me at all.”
Richmond County Schools took to Facebook Thursday afternoon to address the situation.
“Earlier this week, it was discovered by school administration that Richmond Early College yearbooks had errors and inappropriate comments,” the Facebook post read. “The principal immediately collected the distributed yearbooks. We regret that this incident has occurred and are currently working with the yearbook’s publisher to make corrections.”
The post continued: “As a district, we do not and will not tolerate inappropriate conduct toward any of our students. In each situation, our goal is to provide for the well-being of all of our students and prevent recurrences of inappropriate conduct.”
Parents with children at the early college say the quotes had to be approved by the principal.
Freshman Chase Brown said it’s not a big deal to him and he thinks everyone is overreacting.
His mother, Charity Davis, agrees.
“I feel that young lady only stood up for her freedom of speech by using the quote of her choice,” she said. “Every senior was given the opportunity to choose a quote. It was her right as an American to choose any quote under the sun.”
Davis said if there was an issue with the quote being offensive, it should have been addressed before the yearbooks went to print.
“Those kids, especially the seniors, have a right to the annuals they already paid for,” she continued. “Seems to me the error occurred with the yearbook committee. Someone didn’t proofread. Whose fault is that?”
Angelia Hinson, another parent, also said she thinks the issue is being “blown out of proportion.”
“I’m sure she (the student) isn’t the first or last to repeat this now-famous quote,” she said. “I do, however, have an issue with the fact my child…a senior, paid for her yearbook when they first went on sale…has yet to be given her yearbook.”
Many responses to RCS’ Facebook post are similar to those of Davis and Hinson, with a divide seemingly among racial lines.
While many commenters point to the First Amendment, another brings up the 1988 Supreme Court ruling in the Hazelwood case, where justices held 5-3 that a principal’s decision to prohibit a student newspaper from publishing controversial articles did not violate the students’ First Amendment rights.
Ashley-Michelle Thublin, public information officer for Richmond County Schools, could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.
However, Thublin told the Raleigh News & Observer there would not be enough time to distribute a new version of the yearbooks before students get out on May 18.