School district officials acted quickly on May 7 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. that day.

Investigators then interviewed 23 students and four employees. 

“Action needs to be taken and will be taken,” the lead investigator told the student’s mother, Jwanna Powell on Wednesday, May 12.

Superintendent Theresa Axford told the Keys Weekly investigators had “confirmed inappropriate use of a racial slur.”

Axford added that students and staff will receive education in cultural sensitivity. It is unknown whether individual students have been punished.

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 on May 7 after she had spoken with her daughter. 

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. “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.

“They told me the two students had been removed from class and they had launched an investigation,” Powell said. 

In addition to the investigation, Axford said, “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 incident of racism at Sugarloaf School. She called it “generational conditioning that starts at home.” Powell said she asked the school district to issue a public apology and wants teachers included in the sensitivity training so they are prepared to recognize, prevent and stop racist behavior.

“My daughter said the N-word is used so loosely on the Sugarloaf bus, it is completely unacceptable,” Powell told the Keys Weekly.

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.