Colbert County Superintendent Gale Satchel said Tuesday she stands by her statements last week during the "Black-tion" rally at the Colbert County Courthouse, saying "a lot of systemic racism goes overlooked that doesn't make the news."
Satchel's message on June 1 came after the speakers on the agenda had spoken. She said she took the podium with no intentions of inciting the crowd, but was just taking a stand that she doesn't regret.
In defending her comments Tuesday, Satchel cited personal examples of her own child being called the "n" word, and of her being told in a staff meeting that she was hiring too many blacks. She said her husband, Melcha, who is principal at Colbert County High School, had been called a "gorilla."
Each of those instances constitute hidden racism, she said.
Satchel admitted she's experienced a lot of backlash since her speech, including criticism for the tone of her message.
"When a black woman is making a passionate point, it's called yelling and disrespectful, while her white counterpart is called a strong woman," she said.
Shouting loudly into the microphone, which she said Tuesday was necessary for her to be heard over the noise of the mixed black and white crowd, she said: "Our school data shows more black kids are sent to the office, to ISS (in school suspension) and to be expelled."
She went on to say in her speech that when their counterparts, white boys and girls, see that, then become police officers, "it becomes easy to kill them (black people)," because of what the white students have seen in the past."
"I just cannot turn a blind eye to these things, but what it amounts to is people just don't want to hear the truth," she said.
Retired Muscle Shoals Police lieutenant Mark Goins said his initial reaction to Satchel's comments was one of shock, saying truth is not what was spoken.
"I couldn't believe the words coming from the mouth of someone of her professional caliber and position," he said. "She not only slammed her own (county's) officers, but her own teachers and half her students."
Goins, a graduate of Colbert Heights High School, said Satchel's remarks led him to believe she was trying to incite the audience and that she was "pandering to her audience to get votes."
"My question is: What factual basis (involving discipline of black students) does she have, what research? What numbers is she referring to because I've never heard an educator make such a statement," Goins said.
"She's probably a good woman, but that was uncalled for and unnecessary," he added. " I say look around at the men and women serving in our local communities. I dare her to show me an example of her accusations. I'm a product of her school system, and not one time did I ever think this way or see this out of any law enforcement officer."
As for her reference to student discipline data, Satchel said her intent was misunderstood. She claimed her reference to "our school data" didn't apply specifically to Colbert County schools.
"I never said Colbert County Schools," she said, adding that she was basing her comments on knowledge from her first-hand experiences in other school systems, including Lawrence County and Tuscumbia.
"When I said 'our,' I meant our as a village," she said. "At this rally, we were talking about the nationwide problem with inequality, not Colbert County. Yes, it was on the heels of what happened to George Floyd, but there's much more to this than what happened to him."
While national data does show that black students represent more than the majority of disciplinary infractions in schools, Colbert County numbers don't reflect that.
According to the Civil Rights Data Collection site, a 2016 survey for Colbert County showed white students represented 86% of in-school suspensions, 77% of out-of-school suspensions, 100% of expulsions and 82% of all corporal punishments.
School board member Ricky Saint said the school system's incident numbers don't support Satchel's statement about racial disparity in the area of discipline, but in fact reflect the overall makeup of the system.
Districtwide, Colbert County is comprised of 82% white students and 13% black students.
Here are the school system's incident data reports for the last five school years:
• In 2015-16: of the 1,492 incidents, 272 involved African American students (18%) and 809 involved white students (82%).
• In 2016-17: 212 of the 927 incidents (23%) involved African Americans; and 522 (77%) involved white students.
• In 2017-18: 225 of the 1,127 incidents (20%) involved African American students, and 601 incidents (80%) involved whites.
• In 2018-19: Of the 1,057 incidents, 236 (22%) involved African American students, and 534 (78%) involved whites.
• In 2019-20 (through mid-March): 213 of the 1,011 incidents (21%) involved African Americans, and 544 incidents (79%) involved white students.
Saint said he personally knows at least half of the school district's employees.
"I don't know a single one who's a racist," he said. "There's not been a word to me about any incidents of racism in our classrooms in the six years I've served on this board.
"I took her remarks as aimed at our system, and so did a lot of others in the district," he said. "I'm disappointed in the tone of that speech. I think it just split us apart. A lot of people in the system and those associated with it feel disrespected."
It's all political
Thomas Burgess, the school board's only black member, said he's not had any calls from offended school employees or parents.
"I think the backlash is totally political," he said. "I'm not aware of racist incidents in the school system, but I do know there's prejudice going on there among parents and others, always has been.
"All I know is I've served on the Muscle Shoals School Board and under Colbert County's former superintendent (Anthony Olivis) and I've not seen a superintendent yet who can touch (Satchel) in the job she does," Burgess said. "She has the interest of the kids and the schools at heart. If there's racism going on in our classrooms, then I'd say we have to educate some teachers."
Satchel at the end of her speech assured the crowd that there is racism in homes, schools, even churches.
"If we don't do something about it, God's going to hold us accountable. I believe that," she said last week.
Tuesday, she said she's worked hard to move her system out from under the Department of Justice's Lee vs. Macon Board of Education order and has made good headway.
About 50 Alabama school systems, including Colbert, remain under that 1967 federal desegregation order with guidelines for equality improvements.
Satchel said the guidelines have brought about good change, but there's still a ways to go.
"It includes procedures for fairness, like when a person of color applies for a job they'll have a fair opportunity, and that black and brown children have fair opportunities," she said.
"It behooves us to follow their guidelines and change some policies. Once we're no longer under it, and we've put in the safeguards, closed loopholes and diverted systemic racism by giving all kids at the schools the same fair chance, then we'll be good.
"Until then, I stand by what I said and I know my actions have spoken for themselves."
Since her speech, a firestorm of heated social media posts, widely circulated copies of the video of the speech, as well as discussions in the community have raised questions as to Satchel's intent.
Satchel is seeking her second term as superintendent of Colbert County.
Colbert School Board President Sandra James said when she saw the video, she was struck by the emotion and anguish Satchel displayed, and "I understand that."
James, who is a former chief financial officer for the district, said she believes Satchel to be inclusive of all children in the district, but she can understand how people could take offense to her comments during the rally.
James said she had received an email from a parent who took issue with the allegation that only black students were being disciplined.
"She obviously felt the broad brush of racism in the other direction," James said.
As a district, she said it's important to keep communication open, and she doesn't feel that there have been injustices or actions that would cause racial unrest when school resumes, as some have suggested.
"What I'm hearing from parents and teachers is a desire to make things work," she said.