The Transylvania Times -

By Kevin Fuller
Staff Writer 

School System Embracing 'SPIRIT' Program - Brevard NC


Last updated 8/1/2016 at 5:01pm

After an incident involving Brevard High School students, which the FBI is investigating as a possible hate crime, Transylvania County Schools is taking part in a U.S. Department of Justice initiative that aims at curbing racism and making schools more inclusive.

Superintendent Jeff McDaris confirmed the school is actively participating in an initiative called SPIRIT, or Student Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together, which is a program of the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service.

“We want to make sure people form an understanding and respect for each other,” McDaris said.

The participation in the initiative stems from racial allegations resulting from an incident in November 2015 in which four males, including high school students, were charged with race related crimes.

NAACP President Tommy Kilgore praised the school system’s involvement in the initiative, which will be rolled out this fall.

“For too long, there has been an ‘elephant in the living room’ when it comes to racial tension in Transylvania County,” Kilgore said, in a statement. “We think this Justice Department program in Brevard High School will help students openly discuss and examine feelings that have been too long repressed. The program offers an opportunity to find new ways of working and living together.”

The Justice Department describes the program as a way to help schools build strategies to improve lines of communication, establish programs to eliminate racial and ethnic misconceptions, and develop plans to prevent conflict and improve intergroup relations among students, faculty, staff, parents and community groups.

The initiative identifies natural student leaders who participate in half-day sessions for two consecutive days and brings students together to identify racial concerns.

McDaris said the program is about school spirit.

“In this time where there seems to be unease in the country, it’s an opportunity for kids to feel good about their school,” he said.

Since 1964, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service has introduced a variety of methods and programs for reducing racial tension and violence in communities throughout the U.S.

“We are very hopeful that this will bring about long-term change in attitudes and relationships that will spread far beyond the schools and we are eager to play a role by working with the schools and the students to bring about this change,” Kilgore added.

On Nov. 17 of last year, Transylvania County Sheriff's deputies charged a 15-year-old Brevard High School student with ethnic intimidation, a misdemeanor, after an alleged incident at the school.

The name of the student charged was not released because the person is a minor.

Additionally, Brevard police charged three males in connection to an incident on the night of Nov. 17, where the three allegedly took knives and sticks to a neighborhood and made ethnic threats.

Christopher M. Blackburn, 20, of Brevard was charged with ethnic intimidation after he and two others allegedly went to Hemphill Circle in Brevard, attempting to locate an individual involved in some type of altercation at Brevard High School earlier in the day.

His charges have since been dropped at the victim’s request.

A 16-year-old Brevard High School student and Johnathan A. Johnson, 18, of Brevard, were both charged with misdemeanor aiding and abetting on ethnic intimidation.

Johnson was sentenced to 30 days in jail in December, according to court records.

It’s unclear where the minor’s charges stand.

The incident spiked concerns and local NAACP leaders began meeting with school administration, as well as members of the community, to see what could be done.

The incident was also flagged by the FBI. In February, a spokesperson confirmed the FBI was involved in an active investigation into the incident. FBI officials have confirmed that the investigation is still active.


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