Wake County Schools

Wake school leaders praise student who exposed racist chat as parents demand accountability

Posted October 15, 2019 7:34 p.m. EDT
Updated October 16, 2019 12:15 a.m. EDT

— Wake County school leaders praised an East Wake High School student who exposed a racist group chat and said more work must be done to combat racism. Meanwhile, family and supporters of the student, Cenayia Edwards, 14, asked school leaders to hold people, including the school's principal, accountable.

Cenayia and her family say they were hurt by the lack of response by the school district after she was able to infiltrate and expose the racist group chat. Two East Wake High students and five students from Corinth Holders High School in Johnston County participated in the chat, which included messages such as #bringslaveryback and several posts that included racial slurs.

At Tuesday's Wake County Board of Education meeting, the superintendent and board members each took turns addressing the controversy, which has drawn national and international attention.

Wake Superintendent Cathy Moore said Cenayia's courage to expose the "racist, vile and hurtful" comments "is to be commended and nurtured."

"Put simply, we have more work to do," Moore said.

Wake Board of Education Vice Chairman Keith Sutton apologized to Cenayia's family and said he wants to "strengthen our policies" to deal with hate speech.

During their speeches, several board members pointed to their efforts to improve diversity across schools, including racially, socio-economically and academically, but said more needs to be done.

Wake County school officials have said federal student privacy laws prohibit them from discussing whether anyone was disciplined in the case. Johnston County school officials said the Corinth Holders High principal identified the students at that school who were involved in the chat group and took action against them, but they didn't elaborate.

Cenayia's parents spoke at Tuesday's board meeting and said their family has lost sleep and feared for their daughter's safety in the weeks since she reported the chat. They asked board members to hold East Wake High Principal Stacey Alston accountable for taking so long to respond to their daughter's concerns about the chat.

"This was reported to the principal and nothing was done," Coderro Edwards said.

Alston said in a video statement posted online that neither he nor other school officials condone the racist behavior exhibited in the chat room.

"This type of behavior is total unacceptable," Alston said. "This type of behavior does not reflect my values, East Wake's values nor Wake County public schools' values."

The school plans to have discussions about race relations among students, staff, parents and others in the coming weeks, he added.

"These conversations are much needed in our community to repair after this incident," he said.

Cenayia said she holds no ill will toward her classmates, but the experience has been painful.

"I forgave one of the students but made it clear I wouldn't forget, nor could we be friends," she said. "I am ... shocked that it is 2019, and we're still doing this."

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