Wake County schools say dolls given to teachers were not racist

06/20/2014 9:00 AM

06/19/2014 5:43 PM

The Wake County school system has determined that dolls given by Enloe High School Principal Scott Lyons to his teachers were not racially offensive as alleged in a complaint filed with the school district.

At issue are what Mark Garrison, a member of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens For African American Children, charged were “Sambo” dolls given to staff in December. David Neter, Wake’s chief business officer, concluded after an investigation that what Lyons gave were actually “Dammit Dolls” that are meant to relieve stress.

In February, Garrison filed a complaint with the school system with one of the points being over the dolls.

Garrison reiterated the charge in a June 4 email to school board members and Superintendent Jim Merrill. Garrison charged that Lyons “used poor judgment and obvious un-professionalism and insensitivity by giving ‘Sambo‘ dolls as Christmas gifts to his staff.”

Garrison has been calling on the school board to remove Lyons as principal. Garrison blames Lyons for the arrests of seven students during a water-balloon fight at Enloe in May 2013.

In addition to pressing the school board for action, Garrison filed a complaint over Lyons with the International Baccalaureate Organization, which accredits the IB program at Enloe and several other Wake schools. Garrison also asked the Wake County Board of Commissioners to withhold school funding until Lyons was removed.

In June, Neter responded to Garrison. Click here to view Neter’s report.

Neter wrote that Lyons admitted giving the dolls to his staff. But Lyons denied they were “Sambo” dolls.

“(Lyons) went on to state that they were ‘Dammit Dolls’ that were readily available in stores, and are used to release stress,” Neter wrote. “Mr. Lyon’s stated it had been a stressful year with the implementation of the PowerSchool application, and numerous other issues, and the gifts were simply an expression of appreciation to his staff. I asked Mr. Lyons if he associated anything racially insensitive about the dolls and he stated he did not.”

Neter proceeds to go into a review of “Dammit Dolls,” writing they “may be considered something of a fad.”

Neter includes actual pictures of “Sambo“ dolls in his report, writing that “a review of pictures of ‘Sambo‘ Dolls, provides stark contrast to the ‘Dammit Dolls’ being marketed throughout the country.”

“It is clear that Mr. Lyon’s did not provide a gift of ‘Sambo‘ Dolls to some of his staff, but rather, the now ubiquitous ‘Dammit Doll’ marketed as a product for stress relief,” Neter writes in the report.

The report didn’t satisfy Garrison.

“I think that the central take away is that Mr. Lyons admitted to his actions,” Garrison responded in a June 10 email to Neter, other senior school administrators and school board members.

“He gave ‘gifts’ to his senior staff within 7 months of Enloe High School being the subject of various news reports alleging the school administration over reacted to the possibility of a juvenile prank. There is no dispute that a contingent of law enforcement officers was requested on campus and at the end of the day several African American students and one parent were arrested. The same news reports alleged racial motives to the actions of both the school administration and the Raleigh Police Department.

While I appreciate the background information from Mr. Lyons’ point of view, I would argue that his intentions are not relevant. I think we can stipulate that the system is protective of its reputation and perception in the public eye is very important. As such, I think it is appropriate to question his judgment and your report, on this point, is silent.

I urge you to keep in mind the following analogy on how racism is perceived:

‘If you had a magnet on your neck, you’d see the world very differently from those without magnets. First, you’d be surprised how many items contain metal things you were completely oblivious to before. Racism works the same way. If you’re black, you feel it but most white people will argue it doesn’t exist. How can you convince them there is metal in the world when they have no magnet that attracts metal to them?’

Mr. Lyons gave these ‘Damnit Dolls’ under no pretext of secrecy or confidentiality. The moment they left his hands, his actions became public knowledge, no different than if he posted pictures and comments on social media. One can only imagine the number of times his assistant principals in casual conversations with family and friends stated, ‘Can you believe what my boss gave me for a Christmas present?’


The WakeEd blog is devoted to discussing and answering questions about the major issues facing the Wake County school system. WakeEd is maintained by The News & Observer's Wake schools reporter, T. Keung Hui.

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