St. Mary's County Times October 12, 2017 - Page 5

Thursday, October 12, 2017 The County Times Local News Schools: Evidence Points To Single Student in Football Row By Guy Leonard and Dick Myers Staff Writers County school officials say much of the acrimony surrounding racially of- fensive acts at a football game between rivals Leonardtown and Great Mills high schools on Sept. 28 can be traced to one student, according to the evidence they’ve compiled. Superintendent Scott Smith made a statement regarding the incident at a Mon- day press conference held by the local chap ter of the NAACP at the Leonard- town campus of the College of Southern Maryland. “There is absolute truth to some of the allegations made,” Smith said about a student from Leonardtown High School deliberately agitating against Great Mills students. That student wore a shirt with a Confed- erate flag design on it that school system and some attendees deemed offensive. Other students in the Leonardtown sec- tion also shouted “[expletive] Great Mills” at the game, confirmed Deputy Superin- tendent of Schools Maureen Montgomery at a later interview. “The principal and other administrators heard it two or three times” before the be- havior was stopped, she said. Smith, speaking on Monday, reiterated the offensive actions at the game were committed by a small number of students. “These are the actions of a small num- ber of students all the way down to one student,” Smith said. Smith said information the school sys- tem gathered came from parent and stu- dent sources as well as seven administra- tors at the game. After the Leonardtown student was removed from the Great Mills side of the football game, several students from the Great Mills side went over to the Leonar- dtown side, school officials said, but it has yet to be determined what they said. No one has come forward with any vid- eo recordings of the incident in question. Smith said games are video recorded by the school system but there is little to no focus on the crowd during those events. “The biggest thing is it [inappropriate events] has to be reported,” Smith said. Janice Walthour, president of the local NAACP chapter, decried what was report- ed as the hurling of racial epithets at Great Mills students by the lone student from the rival team. She also chided the school system for allowing students to wear clothing with Confederate symbols on them during nor- mal school hours. Montgomery told The County Times that simply wearing a Confederate- themed article of clothing at school was not a violation of the dress code but using it has a tool of harassment or intimidation was. “The key is that it has to cause a dis- ruption,” Montgomery said, though noting that some were offended by Confederate symbolism. Walthour, a former county educator who grew up during the era of segre- gation, claimed “racism, discrimina- tion and hate in our schools do exist and have existed for many, many years.” She said schools should be mandated “hate free zones.” “When looking at the teaching popu- lation in many of our schools, we cannot see that diversity is valued when it comes to hiring staff for the school,” she said, claiming just 6 percent of certified teach- ing staff were “teachers of color.” She slammed the continuing achieve- ment gap in county schools between white and African American students and called upon the school board to “seek out and un- ravel the knotted threads of institutional racism in the school system that continue to stoke the fires of hate, racism and intol- erance for people who are different.” Smith said charges of institutional rac- ism were “hard words to hear” and stopped short of saying whether he believed those charges were true. “It’s my job to make sure that that belief is not out there,” Smith said. The school board also got an earful of concerns about the incident during the public comment section of their Oct. 11 meeting. In addition to Walthour, five oth- er people spoke, including three parents who are white. Jayne Walsh, whose son goes to Leon- ardtown High School said neither of them was at the game but she heard about the incident on social media. She said she told her son to expect an assembly to address the incident and was incredulous when she heard there was none. Walsh said her son approached a school administrator who said the incident was blown out of proportion. She was also flabbergasted at that response. “There has to be a zero tolerance to racism,” she insisted. Walsh said she talked to her son about the incident and used it as a learning ex- perience. “These students (those involved) are not having the same conversation that I am having at home. Please tell students it is unacceptable.” Virginia Goldring said that her daughter heard the racial slurs. “My daughter had a very difficult reaction to it,” she said. She added, “When students feel marginalized they don’t feel safe.” “This particular incident was mishan- dled,”” she said, noting that it offered an opportunity to teach students that was missed. Alonzo Gaskin, a graduate of Great Mills High School and former school board candidate, said, “I am very dis- turbed about what happened.” He said he hoped for St. Mary’s County students to have a positive experience, but that wasn’t happening. “I know what racism is,” Gaskin said. guyleonard@countytimes.net dickmyers@countytimes.net Lotus Garnet T RUNK S HOW O CTOBER 19 TH , 20 TH & 21 ST rickjewelers.com | 301-737-4241 22595 Three Notch Rd. California, Md. 20619 5