Five members of the Metrocom NAACP met Tuesday morning at the Willella Fluellin Youth and Outreach Center to speak out against what they called "the persecution of a 15-year-old kid."
They were talking about the Davenport West student who was expelled after the Nov. 4, 2019, assault of a 15-year-old classmate.
Rev. P. Wonder Harris, of Moline's Mt. Zion Baptist Church, led the press conference, joined by fellow religious leaders Rev. Dr. Melvin Grimes, of the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Moline, and Pastor Stanley Moore, of Davenport's Progressive Baptist Church. They are part of an advocacy group called The Village Elders and were joined by fellow NAACP members Vera Kelly and Mike Guster.
The Davenport School Board voted 4-3 to expel Angela Hughes' son — known during the meeting as Student No. 1216 to protect his anonymity. His classmate was later identified as Charlie Macaluso.
During the press conference and in a news release from the Davenport-based chapter of the NAACP, the expelled student was called "Student A."
Harris said there were "assumptions" made about the attack and Student A was labeled "out of control." He said there was "very little coverage" of the events that led up to the attack and that Davenport West Principal Cory Williams "did not handle the situation properly."
The district said in a statement that many of the allegations the Village Elders made were inaccurate, but that it would not comment further on the particulars of this case because it does not comment on student or employee matters.
"When the District is aware of inappropriate conduct occurring in the school setting, it has a range of options short of expulsion for dealing with the conduct. A student who engages in violent behavior, however, often excludes him or herself from such options because safety must become the District’s focus," the statement reads.
Captured on a cellphone video and posted to Facebook, the attack caused brain trauma, and Macaluso had to be flown to the University of Iowa Children's Hospitals for emergency surgery.
Both Hughes and Macaluso's mother, Theresa Wallenhorst, said the attack was prompted by a photo Macaluso took of Student A during the course of a what Wallenhorst called a "school project."
In the photo, Student A is lying in one of West High School's halls. A school janitor is lying behind him. Hughes said her son and janitor were "goofing around" but he was later bullied because of the suggestive nature of the photo.
Hughes said the bullying over the picture led her son to act out.
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"What we are asking is for people to imagine that this is your 15-year-old," Harris said. "What would you do? What if that picture was taken of your child, or what if you can feel that humiliation from the perspective of a 15-year-old kid?
"We are asking for people to hear another side of the story and to not just have a knee-jerk reaction to the video."
The Village Elders also said they were concerned the student was expelled without services. In Iowa, a student who is expelled from one district can be prevented from enrolling in another.
“This young man will be forever marked,” Grimes said. “It’s totally, totally immoral and unconscionable that you’re going to ban this child from an education.”
He added that education was especially important in deterring the school-to-prison pipeline for black students such as Student A, a sentiment echoed by the other members of the panel.
"The District does not take expulsion lightly and imposes it only for the most egregious conduct, including when a student’s presence endangers the safety of other students," the district said in a statement. "When the District is aware of inappropriate conduct occurring in the school setting, it has a range of options short of expulsion for dealing with the conduct. A student who engages in violent behavior, however, often excludes him or herself from such options because safety must become the District’s focus."
Davenport Board President Bruce Potts said services might involve online coursework, staff meeting the student at a neutral location, like a public library, or, in rare instances, sending a staff member to the student’s home.
When the administration makes a recommendation for expulsion to the board, a recommendation for whether services are appropriate is also presented. Ultimately, though, the decision is up to the school board.
Potts said that while he thought the board had traditionally erred on the side of providing services, there were some general guidelines they tended to follow.
One “rule of thumb” that applied to Student A was that high school students expelled for more than a year typically would not be granted services, Potts said.
Students receiving special education services get services, “period,” he said. Students in elementary and junior high are also more likely to receive services, as are students in trouble for the first time.
Since the start of the 2019-2020 school year, seven other students have been expelled from the district, according to board minutes. Specific details — such as race, grade level, past discipline concerns, or special education history — are not available on the minutes. One other was expelled without services, for assaulting another student.
Two students were expelled in the fall through the end of the school year — one starting in early September and one in late October — but were still granted services. According to board minutes, one admitted to exposing themselves to a staff member, and the other assaulted the principal and a school resource officer at school.