A South San Francisco high school student’s allegations that other students called him a racial slur and taunted him to put a noose around his own neck were dismissed by district brass who said the word is widely used by students and the boy’s treatment was part of football hazing, according to his family and the school board president.
The family of the 15-year-old teen is filing a formal complaint with the district and Maurice Goodman, president of the South San Francisco Unified School District Board of Trustees, said it is also time for his colleagues to begin a discussion on bullying and appropriate language.
“The conversation has to start on the board level. We have to set the tone,” Goodman said.
The alleged incidents occurred over the past year at El Camino High School but Goodman said he only recently learned of them through a friend of the boy’s parents who reported having problems getting heard.
“I was just shocked at what I heard next,” Goodman said.
Mother Lyn Smith said about a year ago her son entered the dressing room of the drama class to find two boys and a hanging noose. One reportedly said something like “Hey, we got you a necklace. Why don’t you put it on and hang yourself n— .”
The teens exchanged words and Smith said her son called him “a Chinaman” which “wasn’t right.” But she questioned why both boys were suspended for two days in that incident when, prior to that, members of the junior varsity team were often calling him racial slurs and pouring dirt and water on his head but escaped punishment.
After several failed attempts to meet with the principal, Smith said they had a meeting at which the principal said the slur was a “global word” widely used by students and for which they couldn’t do much.
“That’s not a global word. That’s an unacceptable word,” she said.
Smith said the principal suggested she start a program herself to educate kids about the use of the word which took her aback because he’s supposed to be the voice of authority at the school.
The alleged incidents continued happening through the year as recently as a few weeks back when a temporary football coach told the team that they would lose a game because the opposition “has a bunch of n—s on it,” according to Goodman.
The previous year, fellow football players harassed her son and asked if his grandfather picked cotton, Smith said.
After she brought up the matter with the principal, she said her son was mysteriously benched for four days under the guise of transfer student regulations and never returned as a starter. Odd, she said, because he played four games before the paperwork was reportedly discovered.
After speaking with the parents, Goodman said he accompanied them to meet with Superintendent Alejandro Hogan, who told them the primary harassing student had been expelled on a different matter. He also allegedly raised the possibility the teen’s harassment was sparked by the football games he missed because of the transfer forfeitures.
Goodman said Hogan appeared dismissive so he offered an apology himself.
“I am hurt by what happened but also offended by the investigation,” he said, adding that he has lost confidence in Hogan’s ability to lead.
Hogan did not reply directly to an inquiry for comment but in a prepared statement released elsewhere said there will be a third-party investigation launched once the formal complaint is finished and that he is avoiding jumping to conclusions.
“I assure the students, the parents and the employees of the district that we have a zero tolerance policy for incidents of bullying or racism in our schools. ... My record in the district is exemplary when dealing with inappropriate behavior against students. My role is to protect and advocate for students at all times. I will continue to do that with all the information that I need at hand,” Hogan wrote.
Hogan also stated that he does “not protect or cover injustices” and knows firsthand about discrimination and profiling.
Goodman finds it ironic that the claim is coming during Anti-Bullying Month when students and parents are hearing speakers and participating in events aimed at curbing the activity.
“There needs to be leadership because you can have an event but if you condone any kind of putdowns it is undoing all the great work. Without leadership, there are no repercussions,” Goodman said.
Smith said her son is resilient but the situation is tough, both because her parents were from Mobile, Alabama, and because she and her husband feel school officials are nonchalant. She hopes the conversation started by her son’s circumstances help him and also other students.
“I’m very frustrated because it’s not just my kids,” she said. “Nobody should have to go through something like this.”
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