Skip to comments.Parents Sue School Over Teacher's Remarks
Posted on 11/18/2002 10:57:58 AM PST by marshmallow
AIKEN - Nick Hurshman looked forward to his 14th birthday party and a chance to see friends, most of whom he had known since kindergarten.
So Nick invited about a dozen of his buddies from St. Mary Help of Christians Catholic School.
Only three showed up. The others said their parents wouldn't let them come.
After the October party, Nick went home and cried.
That's the price Nick and his parents, Dennis and Regina Hurshman, say they have been paying since September when they sued St. Mary's and the Diocese of Charleston.
Their lawsuit alleges a white teacher singled out Nick, the son of a black woman and white man, during a class and said he is a "Negroid." The word is considered archaic and racially offensive, educators say.
The remark was humiliating, said Regina Hurshman, 40, a building contractor. "It hurt Nick so it hurt me."
The incident also has triggered a debate over who has the right to define a person's racial identity.
"They have stolen Nick's right to establish his own identity," said Dennis Hurshman, 53, an investigator and mediator of employee concerns at Westinghouse Savannah River Co.
The school and diocese have apologized for the remark.
In a letter to the Hurshmans, diocesan attorney Peter Shahid Jr. said the teacher "had misapplied the proper ethnic term to Nicholas without intended racial prejudice."
However, the Hurshmans have sued, saying their son has been harmed by the incident. They also charge the school and church retaliated against Nick after his parents asked the teacher be disciplined.
A GEOGRAPHY LESSON
The incident happened Aug. 27, 2000, about halfway through teacher Jean Cook's seventh-grade social studies class. The word "Negroid" came up during a lesson on the migration of people to North America.
In the 18th and 19th century, European anthropologists used "Negroid" as part of a system of human racial classification.
The term comes from the theory that races developed in certain regions of the world. That theory said "Caucasoids" were from Europeans, "Mongoloids" from Asia and "Negroids" from Africa, south of the Sahara Desert.
Some of Nick's classmates had never heard "Negroid" before and thought the teacher had used a racial epithet. They even apologized to Nick, the lawsuit said.
Stephen Criswell, a Benedict College professor who studies racial language, laughed when he heard "Negroid" had been used in a classroom.
"I was shocked because it's such an archaic term," Criswell said. "But it isn't used just because the word isn't politically correct, it's also incorrect science."
DNA research now shows the origins of all races can be traced to Africa, educators said.
"Negroid" faded from most S.C. classrooms years ago, said Charles Kozacik, coordinator of the S.C. Geographic Alliance.
"It's not an alien term or something people wouldn't understand, but it may not be in favor to use it at this time," Kozacik said. "I doubt we've ever used that term."
The Hurshmans asked St. Mary's principal Keith Darr to discipline Cook, but he refused. Later, school officials said the incident was because of an outdated textbook that Cook used, the lawsuit said.
The school referred all questions about the incident to the diocese. The diocese declined to make either Darr or Cook available to comment.
After lodging their protests, the Hurshmans say they noticed Nick's grades starting to fall. By the end of the school year, Nick - previously an "A" and "B" student - dropped at least one grade level in all but two subjects.
Dennis Hurshman, who holds two master's degrees, said he became convinced the school was retaliating against Nick because of his parents' complaints when Nick brought home "F's" on homework that Hurshman had checked.
Charleston diocesan spokeswoman Maria Aselage denied that. "At no time did the teachers at St. Mary's grade down this or any other students' tests or assignments," Aselage said.
Another question, the Hurshmans said, is just who can assign a racial identity to their son.
Nick said he usually checks "other" when filling out information about his race because he doesn't consider himself either black or white.
"I'm tan," he said.
While the percentage of people who are biracial or multiracial is relatively small - about 2.4 percent in the United States - they represent a growing segment of the population, said Susan Graham, director of Project Race, based in Tallahassee, Fla.
"This is a terrible problem," said Graham, whose son is biracial. "We shouldn't let this happen to any child."
People like Nick should be able to identify with one race or as many as they wish, Graham said.
For example, Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry, daughter of a black man and white woman, identifies as an African-American. Golfer Tiger Woods, son of a black man and Asian woman, calls himself "Cablinasian," a mix of white, black, Native American and Asian.
In Aiken's Catholic community, people offer mixed reactions.
Some disapprove of the lawsuit and the Hurshmans' actions. They give the school the benefit of the doubt and believe the church would not knowingly do anything wrong.
Others, like Shirley Paige, a parishioner at St. Gerard's Catholic Church, a historically black church, thinks it's racist to even suggest a child's race.
"His race shouldn't matter," said Paige, mother of two teenage daughters and graduate of Catholic schools.
Added fellow parishioner Emily Lemme, "He's a human being. His color is not important."
The Hurshmans had picked St. Mary's because they believed Nick could use the religious grounding.
"As a biracial child, he needs a good, moral foundation because he's going to face things most kids don't face," Dennis Hurshman said.
But by the end of last school year, the Hurshmans had decided to pull Nick out of St. Mary's. They enrolled him at Aiken Prep, where he started eighth grade in August.
"It felt like the longest year I've ever been through," Nick Hurshman said. "I was glad to be going to a new school, but sad that I wouldn't be seeing my friends."
Aselage said the diocese attempted in "good faith, in every way humanly possible, to listen, investigate and resolve this matter."
But April Sampson, the Hurshmans' attorney, said she called diocesan attorneys five times and sent four letters seeking to mediate the dispute, but never got a response.
Friends had discouraged the family from taking on the Catholic church "because it's so powerful," Regina Hurshman said.
"This is my kid, and I don't care who they are," she said. "I don't care if I lose every dime that I have fighting it."
For Dennis Hurshman, who was raised Catholic, the incident has become a crisis in faith.
"I knew since the day Nick was born that there was going to be some kind of racial incident," Dennis Hurshman said. "But I never expected it to occur in a Catholic classroom."
Deja vu all over again.
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Evidently these parents believe that lawsuits are just another form of state lottery and should not be taken personally by the people whose money they want lawyers to steal for them.
Florida was the case of the dude who wanted to wear a dress to the prom. LOL
I'm getting my schools and scandals confused.
If this 'theorey' is so wrong, and people may be sued for using this classification; why do companies ask me to fill a form out (voluntarily, right??) stating my race as being either Caucasian, Asian, Black, Hispanic or Other?
Besides, wasn't the teacher demonstrating a FACT? Saying that Mary appears Asian, Jeff looks Caucasian, Jamahl may be Arabic and Ken is likely Negroid is not an insult. It's observable fact.
Main Entry: ne·groid
Usage: often capitalized
: of, resembling, related to, or characteristic of the Negro race
- negroid noun, often capitalized
Sounds like a perfectly legitimate descriptor of the child, given his parentage.
This is one of those Frivolous Law Suits a proper judge would and should throw out of court. Mr. and Mrs. Hurshman owe both school and teacher an apology. I am so sorry for their son as he is who he is and what he is and rather than run from it, should be made proud of it. The parents are the ones harming the boy.
In the 18th and 19th century, European anthropologists used "Negroid" as part of a system of human racial classification.
The term comes from the theory that races developed in certain regions of the world. That theory said "Caucasoids" were from Europeans, "Mongoloids" from Asia and "Negroids" from Africa, south of the Sahara Desert. Nick said he usually checks "other" when filling out information about his race because he doesn't consider himself either black or white.
"I'm tan," he said.
Someone needs to explain to the family that both of these designations are correct. In reference to the historical "Negroid", the teacher was giving the correct information. However, the boy is correct in saying that he is "tan", as "black" and "white" are misnomers when applied to skin color. My 5 year old bi-racial son has also stated that he's "tan" and it seems obvious to him and everyone else in the family that this is correct. I don't belive the teacher used good judgement in pointing out any pupil as an example. However, an apology from the teacher seems the appropriate response. The other families are right in distancing themselves from this family in light of the obvious attempt to strike it rich with the lawsuit. Kind of makes you wonder what they would want to do if their son had been called a "mulatto"?
I remember some blacks made a big fuss when someone in the U.S. government used the word "niggardly" in a budget document, as I recall. These folks should lighten up and invest in a dictionary.
I think I have a very small amount of native american blood in me. Does that mean I can live tax free and leech money off of taxpayers too? My skin is white, but I am a mixture of Swedish, German, English and who-knows-what-else. Funny... I just consider myself to be an American. When is being a plain old American going to pay off for me? Though I feel sorry this young man was reportedly offended and "hurt" by his misunderstanding of the word and the label applied to him, this is another case of people being too darned sensitive for their own good. They all need to get over it and move on.
I believe everything would have been fine had the parents had a talk with the teacher, a talk with their son, and settled the misunderstanding. Instead, they chose to make this a huge issue which probably hurt their son more than the teacher's remark.
"what did you call me????"
It sounds to me like this father was bound and determined that somewhere, someone, at sometime was going to be a racist and spent 14 years waiting for the "incident" to happen. Almost like willing it into existance so he could point his finger and scream discrimination. Wonder what kind of $$ their asking for in their lawsuit....
This is the same store that the NAACP started looking into last week when a black woman complained about something, asked for a manager and the clerk said something about blacks loud enough for the manager and the customer to hear. sounds like they have a lot of idiots working there.
They still do. I took a forensic anthropology course at Colorado State University in the mid 1990s. The textbook that was used for bone identification listed the three distinct types of skulls as "Negroid," "Mongoloid" and "Caucasoid."
What was there to mediate? A teacher made an insensitive remark in good faith and intended no offense. The schoold investigated, probably told the teacher to be more careful in the future, and apologised. Case closed. There was nothing else to mediate by the school - the family just thought they were entitled to money for nothing. And if this caused the kid the problems the parents are alleging, then he's got a lot more probems than can be caused by an unfortunate remark by a teacher.
Is that why? Or because his parents had sued their school?
I disagree. The primary issue is that mommy & daddy are suing because baby boy got his feelings hurt. If that's the worst thing that happens to him in his life, he's getting off pretty easy.
Why is he a moron? Well, the only reason I can see is that he didn't really think anyone would be silly enough to take it as any kind of an insult. When are we going to be able to laugh again in this country? There was time we could joke with each other about our differences and no one was hurt - it was just fun.
I heard one Asian woman on TV complaining because someone said she looked like a china doll. Well, she did - she was exquisitely beautiful - although extremely stupd.
Well then, by your theory, young Nick should grow up to be a world-class architect/construction magnate with multiple PHD's who dabbles in forensic political science while being totally devoid of a sense of humor.
Exactly. And what's ridiculous is that he's being taught to be sensitive concerning something that he has no control over, his race, rather than that which he can contol. It's going to be far more important how this young man lives his life than what color he was when he was brought into this life. The fact that my son is a different color than my other children has never even entered into their minds as being important. How he grows and develops in his life, is important.
As I recall, it was a political appointee (in Wash., DC?) who used "niggardly", AND used it properly, but was forced to resign because of the woefully deficient vocabulary of idiot overly-sensitive anal openings.
I liked the story of the overly-sensitive idiot who tried to get his white coach in trouble when, during high school football practice, the coach told him to get his "black a$$" back on the line of scrimmage to correct an egregious error in blocking technique. The principle the kid complained to, also a black, asked the kid if he were black. The kid said yes. the principle asked him if that included his posterior. The kid answered, "yes." The principle then told the kid the coach was correct in his assessment of the kid's hind quarters and told him to get his black a$$ back to football practice! I loved it!
Bottom line: There was no ill intent, so these parents are real jerks! By their laughable, idiot over-reaction they've done FAR more harm to the kid than the teacher EVER did, even if the teacher was trying to be demeaning!
Well, back in the 'unenlightened' days, we studied the races that way. Now, we have to have the government and lots of people educated beyond their intelligence to tell us we can no longer use those words, they hurt someone feelings. Horsefeathers!! It is just a way to attempt to control not only the speech of Americans but their very thoughts. Anyone who buys into the racist, bigot screed is just aiding and abetting the people who would like to keep us divided.
Had the teacher done anything in the past to that child? I doubt it. But you know in this society - words matter more than anything else. It doesn't matter what a person feels or how he acts, if only he says the right things.
Just get over it!! If that is the worse that child has to live with in his lifetime, he will be lucky indeed.
The French and southern rednecks are open season, fair game for all. No one cares. Here I am , a French southern redneck. Wahhhhhhhh
Paternal ethnicity is Italian / Jewish. Maternal ethnicity is German / English.
I agree, I consider myself to be just an American.