The mother of a Gray-New Gloucester High School student says she is pulling her son out of school and moving because he has been the target of racial epithets on several occasions.

Vernita Gross’ 16-year-old son, Bryant Gross, would be the second student to leave the high school following two recent incidents of racism at the school, in which a student stood up in class and used a racial slur to describe President-elect Barack Obama and graffiti containing racial slurs was found on a bathroom wall.

Zach White, a 16-year-old junior, moved to North Carolina in November after what he described as repeated racial harassment.

Both the Grosses and White say they don’t think school officials have done enough to respond to incidents of racism and harassment at the school.

Gross took her complaints to the Gray Town Council Monday night. Town councilors told Gross they were sympathetic to her son’s situation, but directed her to take her complaints to the School Board.

School officials on Wednesday defended their policies. Both School Administrative District 15 Superintendent Victoria Burns and Principal Paul Penna say the school has policies in place to deal with harassment and maintain a safe school environment. Those policies are followed in each and every case, they said, and an outcome is determined based on the facts of the case.

“We have policies about allegations of harassment that we follow every time,” said Burns. “Every time I get a complaint I investigate fully.”

Citing student privacy, they would not comment on incidents involving specific students.

The incidents following the election were unfortunate, Penna said, but were the actions of only a few and not indicative of the students or faculty as a whole. Before the incidents and since, the school has taken racial incidents seriously and acted appropriately, he said.

Penna, without going into the details, said he was surprised that Vernita Gross was upset. He met with her two weeks ago, and left the meeting feeling that it was constructive and positive, and that Gross was pleased with the outcome.

“I thought we had a great conversation,” he said. “We shook hands. She was happy. We were planning on moving forward.”

In an interview Tuesday, Gross, who has lived in Gray for three years with her son and 9-year-old daughter, said the problems began last year in November, when Bryant Gross began hearing a racial slurs directed at him in the school hallways.

“It happened twice last year, and they didn’t do anything about it. His grades are suffering. He can’t concentrate,” said Gross

The comments always came in large crowds, Bryant Gross said, and he could not tell who was talking. One day, however, he said he did see who was speaking, and a few days later he confronted the person at school, punching him numerous times.

Bryant Gross said he was suspended for two weeks for assaulting another student, and told by administrators that in the future he should come to them first in such situations. After his suspension, Bryant Gross said, he was again called a racial slur. But when he brought it to school officials on two separate occasions, he was only given educational materials on civil rights, the Grosses said.

“He was given a pamphlet and sent on his way,” Vernita Gross said.

White, a friend of Bryant Gross, said he was repeatedly harassed by the same group of students.

“I’ve been called a n— so many times at that school,” White said in a telephone interview Wednesday from North Carolina. School administrators would only give the offenders a “slap on the wrist,” White said. “If we would go to them, nothing would happen.”

After the incidents following the election, White confronted one of the students he heard was involved. A fight ensued, one which White said the other student started. Though both students threw punches, only White was suspended, while the other student was sent home early that day but allowed to return the next, White said.

During his suspension, he decided to move from his grandparents’ house in Gray, where he had lived for three years, to his father’s in North Carolina.

He heard some students were waiting to fight him at school. The constant trouble worried his grandparents, White said, and there would certainly be more to come if he had to defend himself.

“I knew I was going to get into trouble every day,” he said.

While Penna said he could not discuss details of any specific student disciplinary matter, he said disciplining students is a balancing act. The needs of both students have to be considered, he said, and circumstances change from situation to situation, and student to student. Often, where there is a gray area in determining the correct action, or when there are complicating factors involved, some of the parties involved are left upset that the punishment was too light, Penna said.

“Every student has rights, and we in the school have to protect those rights,” he said. “When you adjudicate a student, there is quite a bit of flexibility. We have a range to make some decisions when we deal with students.”

Vernita Gross said she loves her rented home, in a woodsy, secluded area. She also loves her landlord and neighbors, saying it is the best living situation she has had in Gray. But she does not want her son and daughter to live in a hostile environment.

“I want to move,” Bryant Gross said. “I want to move and go to a different school.”

Vernita Gross of Gray said racial comments made toward her son Bryant, a junior at Gray-New Gloucester High School, have led her to move her family out of state. This week, Gross took her complaints to the Gray Town Council.Vernita Gross of Gray said racial comments made toward her son Bryant, a junior at Gray-New Gloucester High School, have led her to move her family out of state. This week, Gross took her complaints to the Gray Town Council.


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