Retired Principal, Board Member, Criticize School in Terror Case

Students at an Alabama high school who openly engaged in “white power” salutes — including a 17-year-old accused last week of planning to bomb the school and carry out a racist massacre —could have been expelled under district rules, a school board member and a former principal told Hatewatch.

But instead of reporting the neo-Nazi salutes and shouts of “white power” carried out at various times over the past four months at Russell County High — sometimes reportedly in front of teachers, staff and school security cameras — the conduct apparently went unreported and nothing was done about it.

“When I heard about this, I was very surprised,” said Dolores Elias Allen, a retired career educator and NAACP member who was principal at the high school from 2006 to 2009 after earlier working as assistant principal and teacher, referring to the Friday arrest of Derek Mathew Shrout. Shrout was charged with first-degree attempted assault, but released after his parents posted $75,000.

“I was the first black principal and the first black woman principal at that school,” she said, expressing astonishment that such racist conduct could be going on school campus she once supervised. The matter was discussed Monday at a meeting she attended of members of the Phenix City, Ala., chapter of the NAACP, Allen said, and has reached the attention of that organization’s national headquarters.

“To me, I haven’t been at that school for three years, but it looks like a breakdown in administration, people not following protocol,” she told Hatewatch. “We, as educators, simply don’t allow, can’t allow, this kind of conduct,” she said of neo-Nazi white power salutes. “I would have pulled him into the office and talked to his parents. It’s clearly a violation in the [school’s Code of Conduct] handbook.”

Each student gets a copy of the handbook and signs to acknowledge its receipt at the outset of each school year, and meetings are held to further explain the rules, the retired principal said.

“I really believe it was a lack of concern by teachers and administrators at the school,” Allen said when asked how the disruptions went undisciplined. Teachers and staff who witnessed the conduct reported by two seniors at the school could themselves be subject to disciplinary actions, the former principal said.

From what we’re hearing, this [student] and his group were planning on recruiting other members to their little group in March,” she said. “It looks like this is one more of those things at that school that have been swept under the rug.’’

In another incident posted on YouTube, she said, a white teacher at the school of nearly 1,000 students — about 54% of them white and 43% black — is seen on a video fighting in a hallway and jumping on top of a black student. And in a third incident, a male teacher at the school was placed on administrative leave, then allowed to return, after being accused of having inappropriate sexual contact with boys at the school, Allen said.

Neither of those incidents has been discussed with the community at public school board meetings, Allen said, but both are being talked about in private conversations at churches and elsewhere in the community.

“In the past, the school board and the district would have community workshops so parents could come talk about these kinds of things, openly, at a public meeting,” she said. “But now you have to sign up in advance to even get on the agenda for the board meetings.”

“We’re getting our stuff about what’s going on in this school district from CNN, ‘Good Morning America’ and Yahoo, not from the school district,” Allen said.

On its website, the Russell County School District referred to the arrest of Shrout and the potential massacre of students he was planning as an “event.” No other reference to the case that has drawn national attention is made there.

The Nazi-style salutes and shouts of “white power” should have been seen as precursors to other, potentially more dangerous undercurrents, Allen said. “I believe it could have resulted in something else serious … like a race riot” that occurred at the high school more than a decade ago, she added.

Veteran Board of Education member Joseph Williams, retired from a military career and one as a high school teacher, told Hatewatch that he only learned about the neo-Nazi salutes from various news reports last weekend, after Shrout’s arrest.

The 17-year-old is accused building homemade grenades and bombs and detailing plans to use them on five students and a teacher, who are black, and a sixth student he thought might be gay attending the school.

“This has never been brought to my attention,” Williams said when asked how groups of students could get away with Nazi-style salutes on a high school campus.

“We, as board, have not been told anything about all this from the administration,” Williams said, expressing frustration. “I had no knowledge all this was going on until I watched TV news. I’m going to be asking some questions.” He said the matter certainly will be discussed at the next school board meeting on Jan. 22 if an emergency meeting isn’t held before then.

Two seniors at the school, David White and David Kelly, the senior class president, have said in interviews that they distanced themselves from their former friend Shrout last year after he started the impromptu stiff-arm salutes and shouting “white power” on the school campus. They said that Shrout sometimes carried out these activities in his Junior ROTC uniform, sometimes in view of security cameras, usually with groups of seven to 12 other white students, mostly boys.

“That’s definitely a violation of the Code of Conduct,” Williams told Hatewatch when reached at his home late yesterday and asked about the “white power” salutes on the school campus. “Clearly, somebody should have done something about this,” the school board member said.

The district’s conduct code lists three classes of offenses, including Class III “major offenses.” The code says, in part, that the “performance or gestures or signals which indicate affiliation with a gang, secret organization or other social group” on school property constitutes a “major disruption” of the education process. Those found guilty of such conduct can face expulsion, even criminal prosecution, the code says.

The school district superintendent, William M. Green, and the high school principal, Vantreise Davis, did not return phone calls seeking comment. But Lt. Col. Lee Washington, the JROTC instructor at the high school who had Shrout in his unit, did respond, calling the racist conduct “a complete shock to me.”

“If I had seen this conduct, I would have had him in my office,” said the military advisor, who is himself an African American. “We try and instill a sense of pride and respect for everyone,” Washington said before abruptly ending the interview. He promised to call back, but didn’t.