School award causes concern for Mississippi parent

Published: Jun. 1, 2022 at 11:08 PM CDT
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BATESVILLE, Miss. (WMC) - Awards that kids receive in school can inspire pride in both the child and their parents.

But one Mid-South mother says her Pre-K son brought home the “Monkey Award,” a moment that left her asking questions.

The family contacted Action News 5 and we started making phone calls to Batesville, Mississippi and the South Panola school district.

Six days and several calls later, no response from anyone in charge. A receptionist did tell us the district buildings are open and staffed during the summer.

More than a week after the “Monkey Award...for entertaining others” was bestowed on her son, Shemekia Ellis met with district officials who told her what happened was unacceptable, but said her child’s teacher did not know the history behind African Americans being compared to monkeys.

“We wasn’t happy about it,” said Ellis. “I’m still not happy about it. I’m angry because I don’t understand why my son got the monkey award when had received an award that he completed Pre-K.”

Ellis’s son received other awards too, but the one comparing him to a monkey is something Ellis did not expect.

“He was excited about the award but he had no idea what he was holding,” said Ellis. “It’s unacceptable for me.”

She sent e-mails to school officials asking for an explanation and eventually had a meeting with the South Panola School District superintendent and the Batesville Elementary principal.

“She stated that the teacher stated that she gave him the award for his energy,” said Ellis. “But the award doesn’t say anything about energy, it says entertainment.”

Ellis says they told her, an animal-themed award ceremony had taken place in Braylen’s class. She also says the principal told her school leaders had a meeting before this happened cautioning them about awards given to students.

“She stated that she had a meeting with them and she stated that they were not to pass out any awards that would be offensive or raise a red flag but they did it anyway,” said Ellis.

Ellis says district officials told her, her concerns should have been addressed immediately and award ceremonies similar to this one, will not happen anymore.

Now, she just wants an apology from the district.

“These teachers have messed up,” said Ellis. “They were wrong. The superintendent knew they were wrong. The principal knew they were wrong. They need to be held accountable for what they have done.”

After all of our unanswered calls to the district, we e-mailed Batesville Elementary officials asking if this award is given out every year and if Braylen was the only child to receive a “Monkey Award.”

As of Wednesday, we have not heard back from any school officials.

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