"He had a look on his face of disappointment, shame," 10-year-old Tamarion Wilson's father said.
Southern parents have been teaching their children to use “sir” and “ma’am” when talking to adults as a sign of respect for generations. For most, it's simply good manners. But after recent events at a school in one small North Carolina town, parents are worried that this long-held manner of speaking is becoming a thing of the past.
Teretha Wilson told WTVD that she noticed something was wrong when her 10-year-old son Tamarion got off the school bus from North East Carolina Preparatory School in Tarboro last week.
"I asked him what happened. He said he got in trouble for saying 'yes ma'am'," recalled Wilson. Tamarion also told her that during the encounter the teacher said she would have thrown something at him if she had something to throw.
Then Tamarion, a fifth-grader, pulled out a sheet of notebook paper with the word "ma'am" written on it four times per line on both sides. He told his mother that his teacher had him write the word repeatedly because he kept calling her "ma'am" even though she had asked him not to. Tamarion was told he had to have the paper signed by a parent.
"He had a look on his face of disappointment, shame," his father, McArthur Bryant, told WTVD.
Wilson and Bryant explained that they taught their children to refer to elders as "ma'am" and "sir.” They insisted that Tamarion was not intending to be disrespectful.
"At the end of the day as a father, to feel kind of responsible for that...knowing that I have been raising him and doing the best that I can, it's not acceptable," Bryant continued.
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The family added that Tamarion was hospitalized last month for a seizure-related activity, which included memory loss and hallucinations. The teacher was reportedly unaware of that fact.
When Wilson returned the signed punishment sheet, she also included a second sheet, featuring a definition of the word "ma'am” hand-written by Tamarion.
The next day, in a meeting with his teacher and the school’s principal, Wilson said she requested to have Tamarion moved to a different class. The principal agreed.
The family told WTVD that they’re happy the school took action but are worried it could happen again.