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Crowds Pack School Board Meeting to Express Outrage Over Alleged Racism at SAMOHI

 

By Jason Islas
Special to the Lookout

July 1, 2011 – Passions flared at the School Board meeting Thursday as district officials discussed how they will respond to the alleged racial harassment of a SAMOHI student.

Scores of parents, students and community members were fired up. Some accused the district of trying to sweep a hate crime under the rug, while others felt that the whole thing had been blown out of proportion.

“Superintendent Cuneo's and school officials' delay in reporting the hate crime and not notifying the mother of the victim Victoria Gray were part of a shameless cover-up of a vicious racist attack and hate crime,” said Najee Ali of Project Islamic H.O.P.E. He held up a noose to illustrate his point.

But parent Robert Forster expressed fear that the reputations of the students involved in the incident would be dragged through the mud. He said rumors have taken the place of facts, and people should wait for the police to finish their investigation before coming to any conclusions.

Gray said her son, an African-American student, was cornered by two of his wrestling teammates and bound to a locker while students allegedly shouted racial slurs. Also, the students allegedly posed a human-sized dummy with a noose. The incident happened in early May and it was nearly a month before Gray found out about it from another parent.

Members of the Board of Education were measured in their response.

“We welcome the ongoing investigation of the May 4th incident by the Santa Monica Police Department, joined as well by the L.A. County Sheriff's Department,” Board President Jose Escarce said at the meeting.

Board Member Oscar de la Torre called the incident “a teachable moment.”

An emotional de la Torre assured the community that there would be accountability for any wrongdoing.

But he emphasized that sports programs like the wrestling program can go a long way in overcoming racial tension.

“We can't judge the entire wrestling team for a mistake,” de la Torre said after several members of the SAMOHI wrestling team spoke about how positive an influence the organization had been in their lives.

“We need our students to feel safe,” Darrell Goode, president of the local chapter of the NAACP told the Board. He said that the District needs to make sure that all faculty and staff would be involved in diversity training, with no way to opt out of it.

President of the SAMOHI PTSA Debbie Mulvaney voiced concern over the school's lack of communication, referring to the fact that Gray was not told about the incident by school administrators.

“As a parent, I know that Mrs. Gray deserved a phone call,” de la Torre agreed.

Superintendent Tim Cuneo, at his last meeting leading the District, outlined steps it could take to prevent future racial incidents, with an emphasis on education.

“We plan to review our freshman seminar curriculum to ensure that it addresses the racial and ethnic diversity of all of our schools,” he said. He also added that multicultural literature would be more carefully worked into to the students' reading lists.

Responding to accusations that administrators handled the May 4th incident poorly, Cuneo suggested that administrators and staff undergo racial and ethnic sensitivity training throughout the year.

Within 60 days of the meeting, District staff will report back to the Board about carrying out these recommendations. After the police finish their investigation, the Board also suggested that there be an independent investigation to help better understand where District policies failed.

Sandra Lyon, the incoming superintendent, was present, as was the new principal of SAMOHI, but they both declined to comment about the incident. Lyon took notes as she watched the proceedings.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's office is currently investigating whether or not administrators broke the law. The Santa Monica Police Department is handling the investigation of the students.

The Board will hear more concrete staff recommendations and decide what actions to take at a later date.

 

The district's actions "were part of a shameless cover-up of a vicious racist attack and hate crime.” Najee Ali

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