Offensive image prompts reprimand of Beloit superintendent

Board of education VP says termination will not be considered
Offensive image prompts reprimand of Beloit superintendent
Beloit Memorial High School covered in toilet paper from homecoming weekend

Some community members are asking for the termination of the district’s superintendent after an image, which some are calling racist, was shown at Beloit Memorial High School’s convocation.

“It shows his implicit bias, and it shows his disregard for minorities here in the district,” Beloit resident Dr. Dennis Baskin said.

“Their first response if they are African-American (when seeing the image) is that of the years of decades of slavery, suppression, lynching,” said former Beloit school board member Tia Johnson.

The image of an African American man with bulging eyes was used during Beloit Memorial High School’s convocation. Frustrated community members said the image was the last straw in a series of disappointments from Superintendent Steve McNeal.

“There’s been an undercurrent of undesired behaviors by our superintendent, and I think that people have had enough,” Baskin said.

In a written apology to the district, McNeal said the image was used to express shock.

“I am disheartened the image was taken out of context during my presentation, and I never considered the possibility that this could happen. I am aware of the concern some community members have, and I hope they understand I would never intentionally be hurtful to anyone,” McNeal said.

The Board of Education voted Thursday to issue a letter of reprimand for the use of the image.

“The image that was used was in fact racist. Is Steve McNeal racist? And the answer to that is no,” Board of Education Vice President John Acomb said.

As a response to citizens’ concerns, the district plans to use $100,000 to hire a consultant to see how to look at ways to better serve minority students.

Four-year graduation rates among African-American students has increased by 13 percent in the last three years, from 66 percent in 2010 to 79 percent in 2013.

The percentage of minority staff members has also increased to 15.37 percent, the largest Beloit has ever had according to the district. Acomb said a large majority of the district’s success is due to McNeal’s leadership.

“You can always improve, but I think it would be very unfair to characterize this school district as not caring and not doing anything because that’s just not true,” Acomb said.

However, with more than half the district composed of minority students and 18 percent of those students being African-American, some are concerned with more than just an offensive image. Community members want the district’s hiring of minority staff members to be improved.

“Until I can walk through a school building and actually see that there is a difference, until the students feel more comfortable, I don’t think they are doing their job,” Johnson said.

Despite concerns of McNeal’s ability, Acomb said the board will not consider termination.

“If the employee’s overall record is one of achievement and positive contribution, then the misstep, however egregious, can be in fact reprimanded. But it doesn’t rise to the level of termination,” Acomb said.

Concerned citizens will hold a protest Friday at Beloit Memorial High School at 11 a.m. Baskin said the protest will be peaceful and an opportunity for other community members to voice their opinions.