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Ala. Principal Suspended in Flap Over Mixed-Race Couples

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Capping days of protests and threats of violence, an east-central Alabama school board last week voted to suspend and investigate a high school principal who allegedly tried to ban mixed-race couples from a prom and called a biracial student a "mistake.''

Meeting in a Wedowee, Ala., auditorium packed with 500 residents and patrolled by dozens of police, the Randolph County school board voted 4 to 2 to suspend with pay Hulond Humphries, pending an investigation. Mr. Humphries and the district face a discrimination suit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of Revonda Bowen, 16, the high school junior and prom-committee president at the center of the uproar.

The controversy revolves around charges that during a Feb. 24 student assembly Mr. Humphries said he would cancel the spring prom if mixed-race couples planned to attend. When Ms. Bowen, whose mother is black and whose father is white, asked Mr. Humphries whom she should bring to the dance, he responded that Ms. Bowen was a "mistake'' and that he hoped to stop others from making the same mistake, the suit alleges.

Mr. Humphries reversed himself the next day and announced that the prom would go on, but he did not apologize for the remark to Ms. Bowen, the suit says.

The principal has not spoken publicly about the incident, and school board members declined comment upon advice of the board's lawyer.

Mr. Humphries's critics contend that racism is the hallmark of the principal's 26-year tenure.

Critics and Supporters

In 1988, civil-rights investigators for the U.S. Education Department found that Mr. Humphries encouraged racial segregation on school buses and disciplined blacks more harshly than whites.

"We think this man is unfit to serve as principal,'' said the Rev. Joseph Lowery, the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

The principal's supporters drove through town with signs supporting him and urging him to run for President. His ban on mixed-race prom dates, they say, was a safety measure in light of school incidents involving mixed-race dating.

Tension knotted the rural county in the days before the board met. The Randolph County Middle School was evacuated after a bomb threat, and about 50 law-enforcement officers from a dozen agencies patrolled the grounds outside the meeting after rumors that 3,000 Ku Klux Klan members and buses of protesters from Atlanta planned to show up, according to Larry Calley, the Randolph County sheriff.

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