HENRY COUNTY, Ga. — A local grandmother is taking on a school district. Her 12-year-old
granddaughter faced expulsion and criminal charges for writing on a locker room wall.
"She wrote the word
'hi,'" said Kenji Roberts. Her granddaughter, Mikia Hutchings, attends Dutchtown Middle School.
“It is totally ludicrous,” Roberts said.
Roberts says she doesn’t think her granddaughter should escape punishment altogether for skipping class and writing on a locker room wall, but contends permanent expulsion and criminal charges are extreme.
“We need to build these children. We can’t tear them down,” Roberts said. "The other white student, who was with Mikia at the time, faced a much less severe punishment, according to Mikia’s attorneys."
The Georgia Legal Services Program filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, alleging race discrimination.
“Intentional discrimination is an ongoing problem for students at the Henry County School District,” the complaint says.
A spokesperson for Henry County Schools says they cannot comment on the specific case or allegations.
The school district did recently set up a 12-person commission to look into allegations surrounding school discipline cases.
State Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Henry County) says disciplinary actions against African-American students statewide are unfairly severe.
“Start a kid off early, label that kid as a troubled kid -- that label tends to follow them through their educational career,” said Jones.
Jones says he obtained some numbers through an open records request that prove his allegations.
Henry County Schools is about 48 percent African-American. But black students make up about 60 percent of the kids that were punished, according to the 2012-13 academic school year records.
“You’ve got to expect kids to do childish things, but it shouldn’t end their educational career,” Jones said.
Mikia's school punishment was eventually reduced to a suspension. Henry County School officials say they cannot comment on the case, nor the allegations. However, officials did say they've put together a 12-person panel to review concerns, such as those presented by Roberts, and the district's disciplinary process.