Monkey Books, Rescinded Jobs: School District Accused of Rampant Racism

·4 min read
Carl Recine/Reuters
Carl Recine/Reuters

More former employees of a South Carolina school district have come forward to blow the lid on what they say are racist hiring practices and ill treatment of Black workers, from job offers being mysteriously rescinded to monkey books left on one teacher’s desk.

South Carolina’s chapter of the Racial Justice Network held a press conference Monday with educators who claim they have been targets of persistent racial discrimination in the Charleston County School District.

Louise Jenkins, a former Spanish teacher who was also a student of Charleston County School District, said books on gorillas and monkeys essentially haunted her during her time at Buist Academy. She claimed the books kept appearing at her work stations, but she initially didn’t want to assume it was meant to be a racist caricature of Black people.

However, she said her thoughts changed when co-workers appeared to become bothered by her switching her hairstyles, and a wig mysteriously appeared in one of her classrooms. The wig was never removed.

A write-up about a toy—a Monchhichi monkey doll—also appeared in her section of a folder she shared with another language teacher.

“All of our materials had to be in our target language. So, all of the assignments I assigned my students were in Spanish, and all of the other language teachers had to put their materials in their target language,” she said. “But that was put in English so that I could read and understand that it was for me.”

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It’s not the first time former employees in Charleston County School District have had to share allegations of racial discrimination.

Black facilities workers reported they were demoted and lost their jobs in September 2021 due to supposed budget cuts, WCSC reported. However, job ads for similar positions were posted shortly after.

In an April 2022 press release, the Racial Justice Network claimed those jobs went to white new-hires who were less qualified but also more likely to be promoted and receive higher pay.

“The Facilities Maintenance Department has a history of discriminatory and unfair hiring, promotion and demotion practices,” the press release said. “Our findings revealed that less qualified white candidates and/or employees are promoted over African American candidates or employees that are well-qualified.”

The Charleston County School District said at the time it had hired outside counsel to investigate previous hiring practices, but the findings were never released, according to WCSC.

Then in August, a Black administrator was not reinstated after her position was surprisingly eliminated within the district, according to local outlet WCSC.

In correspondence reviewed by The Daily Beast, Dr. Erica Taylor, a Black woman, was fired after 12 years when the district got rid of its position for chief of staff. Racial Justice Network president Elder James Johnson accused district administrators of restructuring the district at the expense of Taylor’s employment.

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On Monday, yet another Black educator came forward to recount a similar experience.

Jason Lee, once a student in the Charleston County school system, rose through the ranks as an administrator before the district offered him a job. (He didn’t specify the job or the date of the offer during Monday’s press conference.) In the presser, aired by local outlet WCIV, Lee claimed district administrators later rescinded the offer without providing any explanation.

“I applied for a position, which would’ve allowed me to take all of the experiences that I had—working in different environments,” Lee said, detailing his teaching history outside the country and in other states. “All of the things I learned about my journey, I wanted to bring back and advance that to my county. But unfortunately, I was deprived [of] an opportunity to do so. I was offered a job. And without reason, the job was taken back from me.”

He added that he wanted to help foster a new era of change; as a member of the Racial Justice Network, he said he was familiar with stories from current school district employees saying they had to endure a toxic work environment.

“These are the types of things we are facing when we’re facing a juggernaut like Charleston County,” Lee said.

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Standing in front of Charleston County School District’s headquarters Monday, Johnson added, “This school district is a very racist school district. [Superintendent Don Kennedy] cannot run a smooth operation of this school district with the racism with our Black teachers, and our Black administration working in a hostile [environment].”

In a subsequent interview with The Daily Beast, Johnson said there needed to be an overhaul of the school district’s human resources department.

“They allow this, and they have not addressed any of [the complaints],” he said.

The Charleston County School District did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment Monday.

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