Pell City parents express concern after NFL debate leads to racially explicit threat

PELL CITY, Ala. (WIAT) — Parents flocked to Pell City High School, Thursday morning, to meet with administrators and check their children out of school after a week of mounting racial tension.

According to Principal Tony Dowdy, it all started after an incident in the classroom last week. Authorities explained that there was a debate about the NFL and players kneeling during the National Anthem, which ultimately led to a confrontation between students. Dowdy said that school officials dealt with the situation, but that the dialogue between students continued to explode on social media.

“Social media is killing us,” he said. “The things that are being posted and said outside of school time that we don’t control…that’s going back and forth between students and also back and forth between parents. That’s causing concern and it’s making it difficult to have school.”

On Monday morning, several students came to school with flags attached to their vehicles. Two students approached CBS 42 to explain that they participated–in what they called–the ‘parade of flags’ to show their patriotism. However, they expressed beliefs that some of the students did it in response to the confrontation the previous week.

“Well there’s a lot of information and misinformation,” said Dowdy, “but because of student privacy I can’t really go into what’s taken place with students here at school. Even with that, because of social media there’s many different variations of what has–or hasn’t happened.”

Parents told CBS 42 that they became especially concerned after seeing several racially-charged social media messages — including one on Snapchat Wednesday evening that warned black students about coming to school–threatening that they would be hanged.

“We’ve just got to make sure that this doesn’t go any further,” said Natasha Lawson, a parent of a senior at Pell City. “Cause one thing–pressure bursts the pipe.”

Parents lined up to speak to school administrators Thursday after a racial threat made online rattled the community.

Lawson was one of the parents who went to the meeting with administrators on Thursday morning. She decided not to check her son out of school, but expressed concerns about his safety. “Who wants to be at work on pins and needles because they think something is going on?” she said.

Dowdy reassured parents that there are safety measures in place, and that additional law enforcement will be on campus. He also said that the absences will be excused.

“I won’t hold it against the parents or the students as we try to move forward,” he said.

The school is working with local police to determine the origin of the threats. Dowdy said that his biggest message to parents is to stay aware of what their children are sending and receiving on social media. “Our students are very resilient,” he said. “There are things that have happened in the past when we had to deal with tragedy, and we’ve had to deal with different situations and our students have always been able to bounce back and move forward.”

There will be a prayer vigil, Friday morning at 7:15 on the campus. Dowdy said they will be praying for unity–but also to have a conversation and dispel misinformation. Parents and students are invited to attend.

CBS 42 spoke to the FBI, who told us: “The FBI takes these types of situations very seriously. We are aware of the matter in Pell City and we are looking into it in partnership with the local police.”

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