Sabri Frazier-Hinton thought the harsh name-calling — both in person and on social media — at the start of the 2018-19 school year was something she could handle.
After all, following a late September bullying incident when she says she was called the “N-word” and told “N-----, go pick cotton,” Sabri’s mother, Theresa Frazier, got a meeting the next day with Sister Jane Mary Carr, the principal at St. Cecilia School in Fox Chase.
“She assured me that any harassment that took place would result in the students no longer being be able to attend St. Cecilia’s, so that was comforting,” Frazier said.
“Racist behavior runs counter to Catholic teaching and is not tolerated in any Catholic school in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia,” said Kenneth Gavin, spokesman for the archdiocese. “Reports of such behavior are always taken seriously.”
Gavin said “appropriate disciplinary action,” including expulsion in one case, was taken against two of the students who bullied Sabri.
Still, Sabri and her mother said, “racist bullying” by four white male eighth-graders and other students continued through commencement on June 12. Frazier accused school administrators of “turning a blind eye and not being proactive to racist bullying” that she said is widespread at the school.
Frazier shared with the Tribune multiple emails she exchanged with Carr and Micah Sumner, assistant superintendent of elementary schools for the archdiocese, during the recently completed school year. Always cordial in tone, the emails focus on at least three incidents when Frazier says her daughter’s bullying was “overtly racist and treated like an afterthought.”
Confronting the ‘N-word’
St. Cecilia has more than 700 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
White children make up 76.5% of the student body, while African-American children make up 9.5%, according to Niche.com, a site that compiles and publishes data on schools.
Frazier enrolled Sabri at St. Cecilia when she was in seventh grade because Frazier believed in the rigors of a Catholic school education.
Frazier said she was troubled when Sabri’s day planner was lost for a few days in early October and Sabri found it with the N-word written in it, and no one contacted her. Sabri said she notified the teacher in whose class she found the planner and said that the teacher informed other teachers what happened. Sabri did not tell her mother about the incident until after a few days had passed.
“I was livid,” said Frazier, who exchanged emails with Sumner regarding the incident on Oct. 11. “Why, after what had already happened earlier, wasn’t I told about this kind of incident by someone at the school? I might not have ever known if Sabri hadn’t told me. It’s not her job to do that; it’s the school’s and they were not doing their job.”
Sumner assured Frazier he would “speak with Carr” regarding the incident.
On Oct. 29, Frazier, concerned she had not heard from the school regarding the incident, again emailed Sumner “in reference to my daughter Sabri Frazier-Hinton, who was racially targeted earlier.”
Sumner replied: “I did speak with the principal and I know for sure it was followed up on to the fullest extent.” He went on to say that he could not give Frazier specifics on an “investigation” by the school due to “privacy issues,” but added that if there were further incidents to “please let us know and we will follow up accordingly.”
Frazier said she was confused about what Sumner meant by “to the fullest extent” because school officials never told her if a student had been identified who wrote the slur and what, if any, the punishment was.
“There was a pattern of racial bullying,” Frazier said. “I just wanted it to stop, like any parent would. What I didn’t like was not being kept in the loop.”
Sabri said one of the boys who constantly harassed her was expelled in December.
“He was no longer in school,” she said. “But I don’t know why.”
The bullying continues
During a school trip later in October, as the bus made its way through what Sabri described as an “urban neighborhood,” one white male student allegedly asked her, “Sabri, are we leaving the ‘hood now?” Another pointed to a Black woman and asked her, “Is that your mother?”
“Why would you say that to me?” Sabri asked.
Sabri texted her mother to ask if she could transfer out of St. Cecilia because “it’s racist, unfair” and “I can’t take it anymore.”
Frazier promised to contact school administrators and encouraged her daughter to stick it out.
The other students continued to harass Sabri throughout the year.
At the school’s eighth-grade dance less than a week before graduation, Frazier-Hinton was hit in the head with a beach ball by one of the boys who had harassed her all year. When she asked him why he did it, he responded, “what, N-----?”
Frazier asked for another meeting with administrators. This time, she and her brother, Jamel Wellman, met with Carr, Sumner and St. Cecilia pastor Rev. Charles Bonner. St. Cecilia staff administrators confirmed that the student — one of the boys Sabri said had harassed her throughout the school year — had admitted to using the racial slur.
“The matter was thoroughly investigated and appropriate disciplinary action was taken against the student responsible for the racial epithet,” Gavin said.
Sabri said the student was not permitted to participate in the graduation ceremony but still attended.
More racist behavior
In March, some of the students who Sabri said bullied her recorded a Snapchat video in which they repeat the “N-word” numerous times.
Jenese Morgan, the mother of a friend of Sabri’s, saw the video and shared it with Frazier. She said she had heard the girls talking about Sabri’s bullies and remembered how her son, now a high school graduate, also was bullied by racist students at St. Cecilia.
“My son went through it really bad back then. I’m convinced that they just treat Black students there differently,” Morgan said. “I felt like I let him down. As I heard the girls talking, I knew I had to get involved.”
Frazier shared the video with administrators during a June 10 meeting.
Gavin confirmed that a male student in the video was dismissed from St. Cecilia in November.
Sabri will not return to the school, either. She has enrolled at the Academy at Palumbo, a public magnet school where African Americans make up nearly half of the student body.
“I didn’t expect this,” Sabri said. “But my experience at that school was awful. I wouldn’t want anyone to have to go through what I did. I’m just 14 years old and I’m not going to let my experience get tainted. But this was terrible. I know that I need to be in a school that is more diverse.”