Cyrus Nance, a former student and basketball player at American Heritage School, was expelled last month for cursing at a girls' basketball coach.
His mom, Angela Cross, said the punishment for a verbal disagreement was too severe and described being stonewalled by the school since her son was expelled Nov. 13.
“They won’t even meet with me,” said Cross.
On Thursday, Cross, her son and their attorneys held a press conference to denounce what they describe as discrimination and a history of questionable behavior by the same coach toward black students. Nance, 18, is black and this was his first year at the elite private school on a work-study scholarship.
“We don't know whether it's racial discrimination or socioeconomic, but certainly there is a problem,” said Sue-Ann Robinson, the family’s attorney.
Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade and actress Gabrielle Union, who also have children at the school, wrote in a statement that their sons were harassed by the the same coach in a different incident.
An attorney for American Heritage in a statement wrote that the school has a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination.
“Expulsion for cursing, and cursing alone, at staff is a clearly published rule in the student handbook," wrote Eric Schwartzreich. “Any attempt by anyone to engage in any smear tactics or that states any false and unfounded statements and propaganda will be defending a defamation lawsuit in court.”
According to Cross and her attorneys, Nance and several of his friends were playing basketball on the court during a girls' basketball practice when they should not have been there.
The girls' basketball coach confronted the teens in an aggressive manner and cursed at them first, said Robinson, who did not go into details about exactly what was said during the disagreement. “And our client responded in kind with the same energy.”
The next day, Nance, a senior, came to school and was told he was expelled. Nance transferred this school year from Stranahan High to join the basketball team at American Heritage.
“I felt like, you know, me being a senior and having some experience I could definitely go there and help that team push,” he said.
In a statement, Wade and Union wrote they support Nance and called into question how the school has handled the incident.
“We will stand by him until he and his mother get the transparent due process they deserve. We believe that socioeconomics should not determine who receives justice nor discipline,” their statement reads.
If children can be EXPELLED for cussing at any adult (and we are not talking about a teacher)yes you read that correctly... what happens to the adult employee that cussed 1st using the same logic? Fired right? How does this wacky bs work?
— Gabrielle Union (@itsgabrielleu) December 12, 2018
According to the American Heritage student handbook, certain offenses are deemed “zero tolerance” and the administration “reserves the right to expel a student, even for the first offense.”
Among those offenses are making a bomb threat, gang affiliation, fighting and profanity or obscenity directed at faculty or staff members in any language.
But a former staff member at the school said those rules are not always applied in the same way.
Brent Maffett, former head coach for varsity boys’ basketball, said during his time at the school he saw students curse at staff members and those incidents did not end with an expulsion.
“It’s based on an emotional decision — ‘Well I like this kid, I like this family, so I’m going to treat them a certain way,’” said Maffett. “There’s a lot of inconsistencies with that.”
Cross, Nance’s mother, said the day her son was expelled she left work early to pick him up and asked for a meeting right then only to be told that she and her son were no longer wanted on campus.
In order to meet her son’s work-study scholarship requirements at the school, Cross said she had to fulfill volunteer hours that goes toward his tuition and was given keys to do maintenance work on campus.
“I was and am willing to sacrifice for my child,” said Cross, a single mom, who'd leave her job at 5 p.m. to complete her hours at the school. “I had to mop the floors. I had to clean up the windows. I had to vacuum.The only days that I didn't make it is when my car broke down.”
On Nov. 13, the day she picked up her son after he got expelled, she said armed security guards had her turn in her keys.
Cross said she wants her son reinstated at the school to finish his senior year because that is his wish. At the very least, she'd like to have the expulsion removed from his school record so that it doesn’t interfere with any scholarship offers he might receive for college.
A day before the press conference, Cross’s attorney said the family tried again to meet with school administrators.
When they arrived at the school, she said the school threatened to call security because they considered Nance to be trespassing since he was expelled.
“It just seemed like it was a continuation of him being punished and being treated unfairly,” said Robinson. “Even during the meeting to discuss his future.”