An Orange County High School’s Black History Month program raised the ire of a White couple, who viewed the program as anti-police and potentially dangerous to students.
The celebration, held March 12, included historical speeches and songs as in previous years, but also included teens advocating on behalf of the #BlackLivesMatter campaign by reciting quotes including, “I was falsely harassed for selling cigarettes and was put into a choke hold eventually leading to my death. I can’t breathe. My name is Eric Garner.”
The parents of an 8-year-old Lightfoot Elementary school student, whose choir performed at the event and whose father is a deputy with the local police department, became enraged by what they perceived as anti-police sentiments.
“Students started coming out on stage saying things like, ‘I’m from Ferguson, Missouri. I was told to put my hands up. I did and I was shot seven times. My name is Michael Brown’. I immediately realized that this was not something that was a good idea for my daughter to be seeing,” the mother, identified only as “Rebecca,” said in a Fox News interview.
Following the show, he said that he was barraged by questions from his daughter about his conduct towards Blacks and about bad cops. The father, whose name has been released only as “Charles,” went to the police station and reported the performance as an “anti-police” rally.
But, a statement from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department read in part that the program was found to be “quiet and normal… and [at the close of the week] everything seemed calm with respect to school safety.”
The town of Orange’s Police Chief James Fenwick went on to say he hoped anyone who watched the entire production “would kind of come out and breathe a sigh of relief and say ‘you know we’re thankful here in Orange County that we don’t have to deal with some of these issues that were brought up in the program.’”
Orange County School Superintendent Brenda Tanner defended the students and said the program was misrepresented in social media as having a political agenda. “I support the young people. They didn’t show anger, they didn’t show defiance. They were presenting information in a way that they were trying to deal with issues. And they kept a recurring theme throughout the night that our lives matter,” Tanner said.
In a statement, the School Board also stopped shy of the apology demanded by the offended parents. “We as members of the School Board regret that the nature of the program was offensive to some, but truly believe that there was no intent to offend or disparage anyone,” it read in part.
Orange County High School is located roughly 90 miles from the District of Columbia in the mostly White enclave (82 percent) of Orange County, Va., the birthplace of early 20th Century African-American educator Nannie Helen Burroughs.