More than 850 students absent amid racial tensions at Gwinnett school

Nearly one-third of the student body at Gwinnett County's Archer High School was absent Friday, as those who were present worked to defuse the on-campus tensions that followed one student's racially-divisive comments on social media.

Extra security was in place at the Lawrenceville school as a precautionary measure, officials said, but there was no reported trouble and classes began as normal. School administrators did, however, report several student-initiated prayer groups.

Social media posts showed dozens of students in a prayer circle that was apparently held inside the school. In several videos, one student was shown leading the prayer.

“In the name of Jesus, I pray that today as we go through the school day that they will recognize that we are not here to spread hate but we are here to spread love as a community,” the student said. “And we are not going to be scared or threatened by the threats that come toward us, and God will have his hand all over us as we go through this day.”

Archer has an enrollment of 2,672 students, Gwinnett County Public Schools spokesman Bernard Watson confirmed. A total of 858 students were reported absent Friday, two days after Principal Ken Johnson sent a letter to parents addressing one student’s posts on social media.

Those posts decried the number of African-American students at the school, and some parents were concerned about the possibility of “retaliation or protest,” Johnson wrote.

“I think it important for you to know that we are aware of this situation and are working to address it with the student involved and his family,” the principal’s letter said, in part. “… We continue to talk to students and remain vigilant to ensure our school remains a safe, secure, and orderly place for all of our students.”

There was no retaliation, but there has been protest.

On Thursday, 75 to 100 Archer students staged a Pledge of Allegiance sit-in to draw attention what they believed was the school's slow response to the incident. Friday's prayer circle was a continuation of that effort.

Videos posted to social media showed most of the students participating in the prayer circle dressed in black. Students had urged their counterparts to dress as such if they supported Thursday’s sit-in and other efforts to protest racial intolerance.

One video showed what appeared to be a school staff member joining the prayer. An Archer senior, whose name is being withheld due to her family’s safety concerns, confirmed as much.

“It was so great seeing the students at school come together like a huge family,” she wrote in a text message to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “… One of our administrators was in the circle of prayer holding hands with students this morning and he really showed his support for our cause.”

Student activism also garnered attention Friday at Fulton County's North Springs Charter School of Arts and Sciences, where officials say students staged a sit-in following a rumor about a fellow pupil being asked to remove a "Black Lives Matter" T-shirt.