Vandals hung a teddy bear from a noose at Wakefield High School on Tuesday and damaged the football stadium and baseball field in what principal Malik Bazzell called a “deeply offensive” act.
Bazzell said the teddy bear, called a doll in a letter to Wakefield families, was hung overnight Monday or Tuesday morning from the North Raleigh school’s roof. Before the bear was removed, many students and staff saw it and a photo was circulating on social media.
“Let me be clear: This was an offensive act that has no place in our school,” Bazzell said in the statement. “The imagery is deeply offensive and everyone in our school community should be appalled.”
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Hung beside the bear was a sign saying “Make Wakefield Tripp again #smartlunch.” The sign apparently referred to some students’ desire for former principal Tripp Crayton to return to the school.
Bazzell, who is black, took over at Wakefield in 2015 after Crayton, who is white, left to become principal of Jordan-Matthews High School in Chatham County.
Bazzell has been more strict about enforcing school rules than Crayton, said Taylor Rosbrook, 17, a senior at Wakefield.
Students were using words such as “racist” and “hate crime” to describe Tuesday’s incident.
“Let’s talk about the difference between a prank and a hate crime,” tweeted the Wakefield High School Black Student Union.
Aysia Woods, 17, a junior, said her initial reaction when she saw the teddy bear dangling from the roof was to feel ashamed to go to Wakefield.
“I was in disbelief that someone would do that and think it was OK,” said Woods, who is black.
Bazzell said he is working with the Wake County school system’s security department to investigate the incident.
The racial overtones of the teddy bear being hung from the school were on the minds of many people. It comes after a string of highly charged racial incidents in the Wake County school system since March.
Wake school officials echoed Bazzell’s words on Tuesday, calling the latest incident “deeply offensive to our community and to Wakefield High School.”
“It’s wrong and will not be tolerated,” Wake tweeted.
At Wakefield, swastikas were spray painted on campus the end of last school year. The school took appropriate disciplinary action, according to Lisa Luten, a Wake County schools spokeswoman.
While racism can be found in every school in every state, Jamie Kerzner, 50, of Raleigh said it’s troubling there have been at least two racial incidents at Wakefield.
“We just have to learn to co-exist and live in peace,” said Kerzner, who graduated three children from Wakefield, most recently in 2016. “People aren’t born racist. You are taught it.”
Both black and white students denounced the latest incident.
Rosbrook, who is white, called it a “hate crime” that’s affected many Wakefield students and teachers, particularly those who are black.
“Right now our school is turned upside down,” Rosbrook said in an interview Tuesday afternoon. “Lunch time was crazy. Kids were angry. Kids were crying.”
The school had an assembly at the end of the school day where several students talked about experiencing racial incidents on campus. Woods said Bazzell told them they should stand together and not let the vandals divide the school.
The Howler, Wakefield’s student newspaper, called what happened “hateful and repulsive acts.”
“The racist and foul actions of a hateful few do not accurately reflect the community of Wakefield High School,” The Howler tweeted. “School should be a place where students feel safe and free to learn, and that was not the case today.”
India Card and Lauren Howell, both 18-year-old seniors and members of the Wakefield Black Student Union, said there’s a definite racial and cultural divide on campus. Forty-eight percent of students at Wakefield are white, and 28 percent are black.
“Wakefield is definitely socially segregated by race,” Card said. “People of the same race tend to stick together. With Mr. Bazzell being principal, it just made things more apparent.”
Howell said some students who live in Wakefield, an affluent area, look down on students who are bused in from different parts of Raleigh.
Bazzell said that while the incident might have been done as part of the annual tradition of senior pranks, “it is in no way funny” and “it is not a prank.”
“Here at Wakefield High School, the expectation is that we adhere to high standards for all students,” Bazzell said in the letter. “This incident violates those standards, and its implied message will not be condoned in our school. Our school counseling staff will be available to talk with students about their concerns.”
In addition to the teddy bear and sign, the metal covering for the football stadium concession stand was damaged and windows were broken on the baseball field, according to Luten.
Raleigh police were at the school Tuesday investigating the vandalism. Bazzell said criminal charges would be sought and urged people with information on the vandalism to contact the school immediately.
The smart lunch mentioned in the sign references how the school used to have an extended lunch period. Students could use part of that time for activities such as tutoring.
Bazzell suspended smart lunch earlier this school year because of behavioral issues with students remaining on campus. It was not a popular decision, resulting in an online petition calling for Bazzell to be fired.
“Students have gone over the intercom to mock Bazzell, social media is filled with offensive opinions and memes on the matter, and in a forum held during Pride Time on October 25, students actively booed at Bazzell,” The Howler reported in November.