A fifth grade award ceremony at Hickman Elementary School in Garland, Texas, is under scrutiny after the grandmother of a student took issue with awards handed out based on race.
The ceremony, which took place on May 25, was part of a fifth grade commencement exercise for students transitioning to the sixth grade, said Chris Moore, Garland Independent School District (ISD) spokesperson.
While students received awards for attendance or citizenship, two awards in particular hit a sour note with Rene Morris, whose grandson attended Hickman Elementary, because they were given by community organizations that targeted African American and Hispanic students.
"It sickened my stomach," said Morris of the awards. "I can't believe an organization wants to give money to a school district insist these awards be given publicly. With all the diversity that this school has, I'm shocked the teachers aren't smart enough to see that this is wrong and they're proud of that."
Morris attended the ceremony for her grandson hoping he would be recognized for being on the honor roll last quarter.
She was dismayed when the school failed to honor students like her grandson and instead announced the recipients of The Goldie Lockie Excel Award granted by the Garland Chapter of the NAACP and the Garland Association for Hispanic Affairs' Image Award.
These awards are meant to honor African-American and Hispanic youth who are" good students" and display "exemplary behavior," said Moore.
The school spokesman said the recipients of these community organization awards "may be struggling a bit," but they are meant be encouraging, not isolating.
Morris took issue because she felt it was unfair that these students had already received the awards at a private ceremony, while other students, like her grandson, failed to attain recognition for their hard work.
"I was given the excuse that the district can't afford those awards," Morris said of the district's failure to award honor roll students. "All it is is a piece of paper. If they can't afford the honor roll certificates, I'm sure the parents can come up with some money to give out those awards."
The school district doesn't see the harm in recognizing students honored by outside organizations at a school-sanctioned ceremony.
"Hickman is one of the most diverse in terms of student make-up, and we want to celebrate diversity," said Moore.
Moore said this is the first time in six years that the district has received a complaint about recognizing students who had received these particular awards.
Moore likens the recognition to that of "a student receiving an Eagle Scout award at the ceremony."
Yet Morris would like to see those awards taken out of the district.
"I don't think a child should be having an award because of the color of his skin," she said.
Hickman is one of 47 elementary campuses within the Garland Independent School District, which includes 58,000 students. Garland ISD the second largest district in Dallas County.
"We want to know people's concern so we can try to find a consensus to keep our parents, students, community members happy," said Moore. "We truly are trying to embrace and celebrate the diversity of this district, not point out differences."