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A group of school students in Texas have been disciplined for setting up a “Slave Trade” messaging group that assigned prices to their black peers.
Messages shared on the Snapchat app at a school in Aledo said one student was worth a dollar and another “100 bucks”, the New York Times reported.
The school district conducted an inquiry and found “racial harassment and cyber bullying” had occurred.
But some parents accused authorities of failing to respond appropriately.
School students at the Daniel Ninth Grade Campus in Aledo had posted messages on a group Snapchat that was reportedly labelled with terms such as “farm” and “auction”. Ninth graders are typically 14 or 15.
One message said the price set for one student “would be better if his hair wasn’t so bad”, according to the New York Times, which said it had seen screenshots of exchanges.
The Aledo independent school district, situated about 32km (20 miles) west of Fort Worth, condemned the students’ behaviour in a statement on Monday, saying that its investigation had been conducted in co-operation with the police.
“We made a formal determination that racial harassment and cyber bullying had occurred and assigned disciplinary consequences,” the statement said, without providing details about the number of students involved or the action taken.
“This incident has caused tremendous pain for the victims, their families, and other students of colour and their families, and for that we are deeply saddened,” it added.
The principal of the Daniel Ninth Grade Campus of the Aledo Independent School District, Carolyn Ansley, said the investigation had found that “racially charged language” had been used in violation of the district’s code of conduct.
However, some parents have since criticised the district’s response.
“Calling it cyber bullying rather than calling it racism… that is the piece that really gets under my skin,” parent Mark Grubbs said, NBC News in Dallas reports.
“It makes me sick from the standpoint – ‘Who do they think they are? What gives them the right to think they can do that to someone else?'” Mr Grubbs added.
Another parent, Ella Bullock, said she was “disappointed” that the district’s condemnation “stops short of calling it hate speech”.
Eddie Burnett, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Parker County, Texas, said he was “upset” by the news but that it was “not completely surprising”.
“In order to do what these kids did, you had to have already dehumanised your targets,” he said. “That made it comfortable for you to treat them that way.”