The story of Jeramiah Ganzy, a 14-year-old Black boy who was racially harassed at a Douglas County middle school to the point that he has had to finish the school year online, is as outrageous as it is heartbreaking.
But it’s also tragically ironic.
This is Douglas County, remember, where a majority of the school board was elected in 2021 while running in opposition to, yes, the need to wear masks in schools during the height of COVID but also, just as predictably, against the school district’s equity policy, presumably because of the danger presented by offering too much equity.
Actually, the supposed issue was that the equity policy was a gateway to the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT). That might have been a better argument if CRT — a once-obscure academic debate that has turned into yet another bogus culture-war battleground — was being taught in Douglas County or, for that matter, anywhere in the state.
In any case, the fear of CRT poisoning the brains of Douglas County students was part of the reason that the new school board had rushed to fire Corey Wise, the district’s superintendent. If you recall, the threat to fire Wise had prompted a teacher sick-out as well as protest marches by students, but to no avail.
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But that firing would eventually be the reason the Douglas County School District would recently need to agree to pay Wise more than $800,000 to settle a lawsuit in which Wise had claimed he was fired, and discriminated against, because he had advocated for students of color and students with disabilities.
Not that settling the lawsuit will have any impact on the present school board, whose members still insist Wise was fired for cause. Of course they do.
“I think their actions were retaliatory and discriminatory, not only against me, but all of the students that we were trying to protect,” Wise said after the settlement.
We now know the story of one such student who needed protection. And of one such school where real poison — that of racism — appeared. As the Denver Post and others reported, Jeramiah Ganzy, a student at Castle Rock Middle School, had done what he could to protect himself against racism. In March, he wrote an email to district officials outlining the discrimination he had been facing.
“There had been a lot of bullying of people calling me a monkey and a cotton picker,” Jeramiah told the Post. “I wanted something to happen. I sent the email in anger and frustration, hoping to get a response — and I didn’t.”
There was no response to the March email until the Ganzys spoke up at a school board meeting in April, taking the issue public. A week later, the district finally reached out.
Jeramiah had also alerted his mother, Lacey Ganzy, to a Snapchat group chat, visited by more than 80 Douglas County students, where some used racial slurs and worse, including threats to shoot Black people.
When some of the students found out that Jeramiah had shared the messages, Ganzy’s mother said there were actual threats of lynching him.
Lacey Ganzy told the Post she had taken the racist messages to the school principal, who assured her the students would be punished. But privacy laws prevent the district from disclosing what steps, if any, have been taken. The Castle Rock police department did say it had investigated the matter and had sent it on to the district attorney’s office.
“He can never go back to these schools,” Lacey Ganzy said. “They’re talking about lynching my son. I am not sending him back there. He is someone who thrives on education and is nominated for awards and is in AP classes. … The options are for him to be homeschooled or move out of town. We are looking to get out of Castle Rock as quickly as possible. We do not feel safe. I grew up here, and I’m run out of town because my family decided to speak up about something that is not right.”
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Is it just me, or does this seem like an issue that needs to be discussed with students in Douglas County schools?
Or should we just ban books about race and racism that might make a student, or more likely the student’s parents, uncomfortable?
Of course, the culture wars are raging everywhere, and race remains at the center of many of the battles. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott showed his, uh, bonafides the other day in a tweet about five family members who had been killed in his state. The shooter, using an AR-15-style rifle, was apparently angry that a neighbor had said that firing a gun in the shooter’s yard was keeping his infant awake.
In the tweet, Abbott described the victims as “illegal immigrants,” as opposed to, say, human beings cut down in a massacre. Two of these human beings had died while protecting children by lying on top of them. One of the human beings who was killed was 9 years old.
As it turned out, at least one of the victims was a legal resident. And the suspected killer, a Mexican national who had been deported at least four times, was somehow able to possess guns. The outrage over Abbott’s comments caused his spokesperson to apologize for getting the “illegal” part wrong and to say that, of course, this was a tragedy. She didn’t, however, apologize for Abbott’s hateful tweet.
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You’d hope that the Douglas County School District will apologize to Jeramiah Ganzy and his family and assure them that it will do whatever is necessary to prevent another such incident.
But as of now, a teenager has to leave school to escape racism. And his biracial family fears it is no longer safe for them to live in Castle Rock.
That’s where hate takes us. It’s a lesson you figure we should have all learned by now.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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