SEATTLE — Four students from Issaquah High School are facing disciplinary action after a series of racist comments were posted on social media – directed at black students at Seattle’s Garfield High School.
It all started after the Issaquah basketball team lost to Garfield in a late February game.
Investigators say that’s when several students from Issaquah took to social media anonymously and shared offensive messages.
“The things they did, they called our teammates monkeys,” said Jamal, a student at Garfield. “It was really messed up. I don’t agree with what they did.”
A Seattle police report says the racist messages were posted to social media or shared via text message. Now the department is investigating the messages as a possible felony.
The Issaquah School District says four students face disciplinary action for violating the student conduct policy, but they won’t say what kind of punishment they could receive.
The district says none of the students is on the varsity basketball team.
Issaquah High School officials offered an apology on their website saying, “We found the tweets to be offensive. We are sincerely sorry for the hurtful actions by a few students who acted on their own.”
This rivalry comes to a head on Friday night as both the Issaquah and Garfield basketball teams face off in the state playoffs at the Tacoma Dome.
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“Those concerns are currently under investigation,” said Chris Kaufman, IHSAA assistant commissioner, who added the IHSAA had no other comment at this time.
Lawrence North Principal Brett Crousore complained in a letter sent on Tuesday, and obtained by The Indianapolis Star through a public records request, of several issues he felt needed to be addressed, including racially targeted behavior and a public perception of systematic racism. Crousore also questioned the location of the game at Bedford, noting the Lawrence North team is composed entirely of African-Americans and they were playing an all-white team in a predominantly white community. Bedford North Lawrence actually starts a biracial player.
In his letter, Crousore wrote that some members of the Bedford North Lawrence student section wore gorilla outfits and other students wore safari gear at the game. Those donning the gorilla costumes stood underneath the Lawrence North basket during warm-ups.
“Our assistant coach moved to stand between the BNL students and our players,” Crousore wrote. “After I addressed this issue with the BNL Athletic Director, at the beginning of first quarter, he did have the students remove the costumes. He seemed amazed that I did not approve.”
Bedford North Lawrence athletic director Jeff Callahan confirmed the students were asked to take off the gorilla costumes during the first quarter, but said the costumes were not racially motivated.
“The safari was a theme because we were going after Wildcats,” said Callahan, referring to Lawrence North’s nickname. “Those (gorilla suits) had been worn at games throughout the year. I talked to the principal at Lawrence North and we discussed it. We made the decision to ask them to take them off. It wasn’t like they brought them out just for that game.”
Crousore said students, coaches, parents and his administrative team saw the attire as a racially insensitive choice.
Beyond that, Crousore described in his letter the use of racial comments, directed at his students: “In the last two days, I have received reports that students were referred to with racial slurs, including the N-word, while waiting in line for concessions at halftime.”
Callahan said he did not hear any racial slurs or taunts during the game.
Lawrence North Athletic Director Grant Nesbit said in a statement Wednesday that Lawrence North appreciates the efforts of Bedford North Lawrence school officials and have had productive conversations with them since the semistate game.
Bedford North Lawrence, ranked No. 2 in Class 4A, beat No. 1 Lawrence North 62-54 in overtime to advance to the Class 4A state title game. Tournament sites are chosen by IHSAA before the school year, but Lawrence North officials believe the game should have been played in Richmond to avoid a home-court advantage.
Whether Lawrence North could receive a fair shake was on the minds of school officials even before the game began. Nesbit said he did not have any complaints with how the game was officiated or have any questions about the officials’ integrity, but he did contact the IHSAA prior to the game to request that an ethnic minority be part of the crew. That did not happen.
Nesbit said many of the incidents they cited likely would have been avoided if the game was played at a neutral site. “A game of that magnitude needs to be at a neutral site,” Nesbit said.
Nesbit and Lawrence North girls coach Chris Giffin argued that all tournament games following sectional play should be at neutral sites.
Last year, Bedford North Lawrence girls also won its semistate game in overtime at home, beating Roncalli en route to winning the state title.
Nesbit said it also was unfair to Bedford North Lawrence that it had to play host Columbus North in the regional last month.
Nesbit said he hopes the IHSAA board of directors will consider changing that policy regarding neutral sites. The board of directors are elected by the member school principals.
“We need to remind the board of directors that this is our tournament,” Nesbit said, “and we’re not happy with how it’s being run.”
Nesbit said Lawrence North officials plan to meet with IHSAA board of directors later this month to “work in concert with them on arriving at reasonable solutions to ensure such unfortunate situations do not occur again and that games of this magnitude are contested on a level field of play.”
Call Star reporter Mark Ambrogi at (317) 444-6047. Follow him on Twitter: @mark_ambrogi
Two top administrators of a large southeastern Pennsylvania school district traded a series of racist and sexist text messages on their district phones, the school board confirmed Monday, seeking to contain the fallout by mandating sensitivity training for all district employees.
Coatesville Area School District Superintendent Richard Como and the high school’s athletic director, Jim Donato, resigned on Aug. 29 after they learned of the board’s intent to fire them over the “highly offensive” messages, according to a statement released by the district’s lawyer.
“The racist and sexist language expressed by these two men was sickening and obviously unacceptable,” school board President Neil Campbell said in the statement, released after the texts were obtained and published by The Daily Local News of West Chester.
Campbell said the district’s internal investigation has not uncovered any evidence that other district employees were involved in offensive exchanges.
Como didn’t return a phone message seeking comment. Donato couldn’t be located.
Prosecutors in Chester County learned of the texts during an unrelated investigation into the school district, Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan told The Associated Press.
Hogan said that once he learned of the texts, he requested that the district turn over copies of the messages and the phones used to send them, and the district complied.
“The text messages that we reviewed were of a shockingly racist nature,” he said. “They looked like something from 1813, not 2013.”
Nearly a third of the students in Coatesville, a steel town 35 miles west of Philadelphia, are black, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
The Rev. Randall Harris, who leads a predominantly black congregation at Coatesville’s Tabernacle Baptist Church, said he’d met with Como on numerous occasions, and found him to be sincere and “absolutely not” racist. Harris said he was appalled and angered over the texts.
“We always had a good working relationship, but that’s been tainted,” Harris said.
The school board said it is working with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission to provide mandatory sensitivity training to board members, administrators, staff and faculty. It said it is also asking the commission to review the school district’s diversity policy and code of conduct.
The Mahopac school district has suspended three students and expects to suspend several others for racist tweets that attacked Mount Vernon boys basketball players and their fans after Mahopac’s 43-40 loss to Mount Vernon in the Feb. 27 Class AA Section 1 semifinal at Westchester County Center.
Mount Vernon Superintendent of Schools Judith Johnson called for Mahopac’s varsity team to be suspended from play for one year. While condemning the remarks, Mahopac schools Superintendent Thomas Manko characterized Johnson’s request as “excessive.”
Johnson, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday night, advocated the year suspension in a letter Tuesday to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Education Commissioner John King.
In it, Johnson alleges Mount Vernon players were “verbally attacked and subjected to racial taunts of an abhorrent nature” by both Mahopac players and spectators.
Video: Scuffle in the stands after Mount Vernon-Mahopac game
Mount Vernon coach and athletic director Bob Cimmino said after his squad’s Wednesday night Class AA state regional semifinal win over Newburgh that Mahopac players directed racist remarks at his players throughout their game.
Mahopac coach Kevin Downes, who is African-American, referred questions to Manko, who said Mahopac had conducted interviews but has been unable to confirm its players said anything racist.
“We’re still investigating. We need evidence. We take the allegation very seriously,” Manko said.
Investigations also continue into tweets Manko characterized as “sad and embarrassing” and as coming from students not on the team.
One characterizes Mount Vernon residents as “monkeys”; others refer to absent Mount Vernon fathers.
One reads, “One of the few biological Mount Vernon fathers just tried to sell me crack outside the county center.”
Of the students who wrote the tweets, Manko said, “They chose poorly, horribly. To use racial slurs or stereotypes, there’s no room for that in our worldview.”
He wouldn’t specify the duration of the suspensions but said, typically, suspensions run one to five days.
Manko said all involved would receive in-school “sensitivity training.” He also said the matter would be addressed with the entire student body.
But while noting he’d spoken several times to Johnson and had apologized, Manko called for Johnson to investigate Mount Vernon fan behavior. He said County Center officials were immediately notified after a fan struck a Mahopac cheerleader on the head after the game. He said during the game a fan threatened to pull the same cheerleader’s hair. The cheerleader was not injured, he said, adding a “racial comment” had also been directed at cheerleaders and that Mahopac players heard, “White boys can’t play basketball.”
Manko, who didn’t attend the game, said two adults “scuffled” in the stands but he was unaware of Mahopac fans assaulting Mount Vernon fans outside the County Center — an assertion Johnson made, while calling for a police investigation.
Characterizing Mahopac’s and Mount Vernon’s past games as a “healthy, competitive rivalry — what high school athletics is all about,” Manko said Mahopac wanted the coaches and at least some members of both teams to sit down for lunch to get to know one another better.
But Cimmino rejected that idea.
“I’m not interested in that at all,” he said. “These might be criminal acts. If someone does something to me, I’m not interested in sitting down and singing religious songs with them.”