Parents respond over Jenkins County ‘inappropriate’ photo

Published: Apr. 21, 2023 at 4:41 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 21, 2023 at 11:15 PM EDT
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MILLEN, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - A photo has caused an uproar and led to an apology and diversity training in the Jenkins County School System.

The photo taken Thursday showed four White students at Jenkins County Middle High School with a rolling bin that had been decorated with facial features and labeled with the name Shanequa.

It was part of an activity called “Think Outside the Bag Day.” Students were challenged to leave their backpacks at home and carry their books in another container.

Parents tell us someone at the school should have shut this down before the photo was taken or ever posted to social media. They’re calling for real change.

“It symbolized a Black female with lashes. Blonde hair, big lips, red lips, and the name really stood out when they named it Shanequa,” said Tracy George, parent. “Why was the trashcan created? Like why was it decorated? It shouldn’t have been decorated. If they want to roll the trashcan, they should have just rolled the trashcan.”

A note was sent home to parents from Principal Rob Gray.

Controversial photo shows four white students with a rolling bin that had been decorated with facial features and labeled with the name Shanequa.

“A large majority of our students participated in this activity and many pictures were posted to our JCMHS parent connection page on Facebook as per our standard protocol so that we can continue to partner with our parents and community,” said Gray.

The photo was “inappropriate and immediately removed from the parent connection Facebook site,” according to the principal.

The photo no longer exists on Facebook, but the comments are still flowing in.

“After a thorough review by our internal team, we have begun the process of creating new procedures and protocols to prevent this situation from happening again,” the principal said.

The superintendent issued an apology on behalf of the district.

“We would like to formally apologize to those that were hurt and offended by the incident,” Superintendent Tara Cooper wrote. “Unfortunately, we cannot take back what happened. There are things that can be done, however, and we are making those plans.”

Cooper says employees will participate in diversity and sensitivity training and will “endeavor to discuss, share, and learn to be conscious of actions that could be harmful to each other.”

George says, “It’s really time to address some things, especially when my daughter attends school there, and it’s in the class with two other girls. I don’t want her to feel insecure about the situation.”

Cooper said: “Respect for differences, understanding, and tolerance go a long way toward building and continuing positive relationships – and that is our goal.”

Rosie Simpkins is also a parent. She said, “That’s a bandaid solution to the cancer that is racism. That’s not getting to the root of the problem. That’s not getting to the culture that fostered the environment for this to happen.”

Meanwhile, parents are planning their next move.

“Come together and plan what we intend to do about it, and establish accountability first within ourselves,” said Simpkins.

And they’re pushing to bring the topic in front of the school board on Monday.

George said: “I wish I could talk to the faculty that was there face to face to see if they can really look me in my face and say that was okay. Why was the trash can decorated, photographed, and posted on social media? I’m sure they cannot give me an answer.”