Mother of Sugarloaf School student details the incidents

School district officials are investigating allegations of racism and planning sensitivity counseling for students at Sugarloaf School. CONTRIBUTED

School district officials acted quickly on Friday to investigate allegations of racism at Sugarloaf School. 

“We have zero tolerance for bullying and harassment in our schools,” Superintendent Theresa Axford told the Keys Weekly at 6 p.m. Friday after confirming that an investigation is underway.

She added that the school district “will cooperate with law enforcement to solve this.”

 Jwanna Powell, the mother of two Black students at the school — one in middle school and one in elementary — told school officials and the Keys Weekly about the two incidents after she had spoken with her daughter on Friday. 

First, Powell said, a male student in her daughter’s eighth-grade class had drawn caricature-like pictures of George Floyd on a classroom dry erase board. One or more students in the classroom were allegedly “making fun” of Floyd, the Black man who was murdered by a Minnesota police officer in May 2020. 

The teacher was in the hallway at the time and did not see the drawings or hear the comments,  Powell said.

“The student erased the drawing before the teacher came in, but my daughter had already taken a picture of it,” said Powell, who posted the photo on Facebook, but obscured the identity of the student standing next to it. “That happened in third period, then in fourth period, in the cafeteria, another student called my daughter [the N word]. I told my daughter to have her fifth-period teacher call me immediately, and she did. Then the assistant principal called me and so did the superintendent.”

Powell said one of the students is white, and the other student has one white parent and one Hispanic parent.

“The assistant principal and superintendent told me the two students had been removed from class and they had launched an investigation,” Powell said. “The superintendent said this could be classified as a hate crime, but that won’t be determined until the investigation is finished.”

In addition to the investigation, Axford told the Keys Weekly, “We are developing a plan with social workers for small-group and large-group counseling to promote appropriate and sensitive behavior as it relates to cultural identities.”

Powell said this is not the first incidence of racism at Sugarloaf School.

“My older two kids are at Key West High School and haven’t had any problems, but my daughter said the N-word is used so loosely on the Sugarloaf bus, it is completely unacceptable,” Powell told the Keys Weekly. “What’s really ironic is that one of the students wears an American flag face mask.”

Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.