A black Fairfax County private school student who reported being targeted in an assault by white classmates now says her allegations were false, the school revealed in a statement on Monday.
Sixth-grader Amari Allen, 12, falsely told WUSA9 last week that, on Sept. 23, she had been attacked on the playground at Immanuel Christian School in Springfield, pinned down by three white, sixth-grade boys who cut off her locks for being “nappy” and “ugly.”
However, Amari has now “acknowledged that the allegations were false,” Immanuel Christian School head Stephen Danish said on Sept. 30 in a statement first reported by Joe Heim with The Washington Post.
“While we are relieved to hear the truth and bring the events of the past few days to a close, we also feel tremendous pain for the victims and the hurt on both sides of this conflict,” Danish said. “We recognize that we now enter what will be a long season of healing.”
In an interview with WUSA on Sept. 26, Amari alleged that three white, male students called her names while holding her hands behind her back, covering her mouth, and using scissors to cut her hair. She said that she had experienced bullying from the same boys in the past.
According to WUSA, Amari reported the incident to her family on Sept. 25, and they raised the issue with the school administration the following day.
The Fairfax County Police Department confirmed on Sept. 27 that it was investigating an alleged assault that occurred on Sept. 23 at the Immanuel Christian School, though Virginia state law prohibits the sharing of law enforcement records related to juveniles with the community.
“As such, we are prohibited by law from disclosing further information regarding this case,” Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin Roessler Jr. said in a statement.
When asked about reports that the assault allegation had been fabricated, the FCPD told the Fairfax County Times that it had no further comment as of Monday morning.
WUSA9 says that Amari told her family that the assault never happened and that she had actually cut her own hair Sunday night.
She told WUSA9 reporter Mikea Turner Monday morning that she had made the story up and that the three boys never physically assaulted her.
According to The Washington Post, Amari’s grandparents, who are her legal guardians, issued an apology on Monday after meeting with school officials.
“To those young boys and their parents, we sincerely apologize for the pain and anxiety these allegations have caused,” the Allen family said in a statement released by Immanuel Christian School. “To the administrators and families of Immanuel Christian School, we are sorry for the damage this incident has done to trust within the school family and the undue scorn it has brought to the school. To the broader community, who rallied in such passionate support for our daughter, we apologize for betraying your trust.”
Because Amari is black and the three boys who allegedly attacked her are white, the reported assault prompted an outcry from civil rights groups and community members who saw the incident as an indication of broader issues with racism in schools.
The Fairfax County chapter of the NAACP, the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the U.S., called on the Immanuel Christian School administration to “take immediate disciplinary action against the students in question” and stand up for its students by implementing “a zero-tolerance policy for racism, discrimination, and harassment.”
After Amari admitted that her allegation had been false, the organization requested that everyone respect the family’s privacy, noting that Amari is not a public figure, but rather “a young girl who made a mistake.”
“We take every allegation of racial violence seriously and we treated this incident the same,” the Fairfax County NAACP said on Monday. “Regrettably, in this instance, the reported assault turned out to be false, and the Allen family is working with the school to achieve a resolution. We would like to thank the Fairfax County police for their quick action in opening an investigation into the matter, and to the school for being forthcoming and open throughout this process.”
Serving about 469 students from kindergarten through 10th grade, Immanuel Christian School is a private school in the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program, a U.S. Department of Education initiative that recognizes both public and private schools for academic excellence and progress made in closing achievement gaps.
Just under half of Immanuel Christian students are children of color with African American students accounting for 11 percent of the student population, according to The Washington Post.
Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, teaches part-time at Immanuel Christian.
Head of School Stephen Danish acknowledged in his statement that, while this particular allegation was false, it revealed that Immanuel Christian School is “not immune from the effects of deep racial wounds in our society.”
“We view this incident as an opportunity to be part of a learning and healing process, and we will continue to support the students and families involved,” Danish said.
The Allen family said that they were prepared to take responsibility for whatever consequences they will face for the false allegation.
“We know that it will take time to heal, and we hope and pray that the boys, their families, the school and the broader community will be able to forgive us in time,” the family said.
The Fairfax County NAACP cautioned against using Amari’s story to dismiss all reports of racially motivated crimes.
“These type[s] of fabrications are isolated incidents, but the public and media has a tendency to sensationalize the falsification over the thousands of real hate crimes reported every year,” the organization said. “The Fairfax NAACP remains committed to the ongoing conversation around race in our community, and stands prepared to assist victims seeking justice.”
Fairfax County police recorded 257 bias-related crimes and incidents between 2013 and 2017 with 89 reports, or 34.6 percent, coming in 2017 alone. The department documented 77 hate crimes and incidents through November 2018 but has not published data for the full year yet.
The FCPD defines a hate crime as “any unlawful action committed against a person because of race, religious conviction, ethnic or national origin, disability, and/or sexual orientation,” while bias incidents target a victim due to those identity markers but do not rise to the level of a crime.
Law enforcement agencies in the U.S. reported 8,437 hate crime offenses in 2017, the most recent year with data released by the FBI’s Hate Crime Statistics Program.
Of the 8,126 single-bias hate crime offenses reported, 59.5 percent stemmed from a bias related to race, ethnicity, or ancestry, according to the FBI.
Fairfax County Public Schools are not immune from racism or other forms of discrimination.
The Fairfax County NAACP said on Sept. 27 that it was investigating “at least two alleged racist incidents at Herndon Middle School where the administration did not follow the district’s bullying policy.”
FCPS defines bullying as “any aggressive and unwanted behavior…intended to harm, intimidate, or humiliate the victim” that involves a power imbalance between the aggressor and victim and is repeated over time or otherwise causes severe emotional trauma.
The school system’s regulations direct staff members to report all allegations of bullying and harassment to their principal, who is responsible for investigating and documenting all reports, contacting parents or guardians, and determining any potential discipline.
All allegations must be recorded in the electronic Bullying and Harassment Management System, regardless of whether they are founded, and reported to FCPS’ Title IX coordinator.
The Fairfax County NAACP declined to share details on the incidents at Herndon Middle School on Monday, since “they are still being investigated.”
A Fairfax County Public Schools spokesperson told the Fairfax County Times that the two incidents referenced by the Fairfax County NAACP were fully investigated and “no indications of racial overtones were uncovered during those investigations.”
“Staff at Herndon Middle [School] take any incidents, or accusations, involving bullying very seriously,” FCPS director of news and information Lucy Caldwell said. “Parents, students or other community members who believe there are incidents taking place are urged to report them to school staff for further investigation.”
Nearly 12 percent of students who responded to the 2018 Fairfax County Youth Survey, an annual survey of FCPS students, reported having been bullied on school property in the past year, while 4 percent of respondents said they had bullied someone.
The rates for both bullying and experiencing bullying were the lowest since 2015, according to the 2018 Fairfax County Youth Survey, which was administered to eighth, 10th, and 12th grade students in November 2018 with results published on Sept. 10.
46.7 percent of students reported having something negative said to them about their race or culture in the past year, ranging from 40.2 percent of white students to 54.7 percent of students who identified themselves as multiracial or a race other than white, black, Hispanic or Asian.
52.1 percent of the black students who responded to the 2018 Fairfax County Youth Survey said they heard derogatory comments about their race or culture in the past year.