Okolona Municipal Separate School District Superintendent Paul Moton said the school district was investigating messages reported to the administration by parents. Photo courtesy Mississippi Association of School Superintendents

Raven-Symone Shumpert was shopping in Walmart on May 18 when she received a call from her son. He told her about screenshots he had seen in a group chat with friends that he had been told showed text messages two teachers had exchanged at Okolona Middle School.

“Mom, is this anything to say to anyone?” he asked.

Confused, Shumpert waited for the photos of the messages to arrive in her inbox. One of the messages included a negative remark about her son, she said.

“She was just saying that my son doesn't need to laugh at anyone until his mom, which is me, figures out who his daddy is,” Shumpert told the Crirec in an interview on May 20.

Shumpert was one of several parents and community members who arrived at Okolona Middle School on May 19 to discuss the messages with school officials. She said school leaders seemed shocked when she showed them the screenshots.

“Both principals read some of the messages on my phone,” Shumpert said. “He said, ‘Please Mrs. Shumpert, let us handle it and I said, ‘OK, that's fine. I'm trusting you, the principal, to do something about it.”

Students and families shared the messages with school officials and reported that a student took pictures of a teacher's computer screen. Images of the alleged messages showed two people discussing students’ clothing and family finances. One screenshot showed them discussing rigging a school vote so a certain student would not win the competition. Another screenshot showed a conversation about harming individuals.

“I need it to flood out these roads so we can stay home tomorrow. I’m about ready to kill some folks,” said one message the Crirec reviewed.

“Just kill em. I’ll help you hide the body. We will go to jail together,” the reply said.

The exterior of Okolona High School
Parents are seeking answers after shocking text messages that included negative comments about Okolona Middle School students were posted online. Students and families brought the messages to school officials and reported they received them after a student took pictures of a teacher's computer screen. Photo courtesy Okolona Municipal School District

Okolona Superintendent Dr. Paul Moton said in a statement to the Crirec that the district does not discuss personnel matters with the public. He said the actions of those teachers do not reflect the school district's culture.

“I still feel confident even though I don’t know the full details. I’m just now getting information about it,” Moton said in an email on on May 20. “But when I walk through those halls, I see nothing but happiness, kids smiling, kids laughing, kids getting along. So no, I do not think that’s part of the culture. Okolona is still the premier school district in Chickasaw County and striving to be one of the best in North Mississippi. We still have a goal to be an A-rated district and this potentially isolated incident does not deviate us from our goal.”

Moton said on June 11 that the district was “still actively investigating the incident and its personnel so I can't discuss at this time.”

The Crirec contacted the two teachers who students said were involved in the alleged text conversations to ask for an interview. One did not respond, while the other declined an interview in an email on June 10, saying that she thought it was in her “best interest to wait till everything is handled before I give you the real story” because “it is a legal matter at this point.”

Shumpert said she and her husband have already decided to withdraw their three children from the school district and that the family will move elsewhere.

“I am taking all three of my boys out. I have four boys but my baby boy is not in school yet,” she said. “I am taking all three of them out of the Okolona School District.”

Torsheta Jackson is MFP's education-equity reporter, in collaboration with Report for America. She is passionate about telling the unique and personal stories of the people, places and events in Mississippi. The Shuqualak, Miss., native holds a B.A. in Mass Communication from the University of Southern Mississippi and an M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Mississippi. She has had bylines on Bash Brothers Media, Mississippi Scoreboard and in the Jackson Free Press. Torsheta lives in Richland, Miss., with her husband, Victor, and two of their four children.