While her son should have told her that he was the victim of a hate crime (but it’s not surprising he didn’t given that kids might not realize the significance of an event or are worried about being singled out), Victoria Gray shouldn’t have had to find out about the incident involving her son, a wrestling dummy, a noose and allegedly the word “slave” from a fellow parent three weeks after the incident — especially since it was reported to administrators at Santa Monica High School the very day it happened.

Once again the administration at the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District dropped the ball, providing more evidence that it desperately needs a public information office to interact with parents and the media, and disseminate information in a timely fashion, or at least a superintendent who uses e-mail not to disparage parents (“SMMUSD supe warns against ‘sabotage,’ Feb. 23, page 1), but to keep them informed.

For those unfamiliar with the incident, Gray’s son, a member of the Samohi wrestling team who is African American, entered a practice room on May 4 and saw a practice dummy and a noose nearby. Varying reports describe the noose and dummy in different configurations. When Gray’s son went to the locker to change into his gym clothes, two students approached him, one putting him in a bear hug while the other slipped a lock through his belt loop and connected it to a nearby locker. The boys allegedly then walked out of the room, shouting, “Slave for sale.” The wrestling coach did what he was supposed to do. He broke it up and notified administrators.

Counseling sessions were held with students on the team and others involved in athletics, but our sources said the sessions focused more on bullying and hazing and not on the destructive power of racism.

Gray was never notified nor was the rest of the student body, which probably knew about the incident anyway given how fast information spreads on campus, particularly in the social networking age when rumors spread like wildfire. Police were not notified either, meaning Samohi administrators were either ignorant of hate crime laws, or viewed the incident as being trivial. Either way, it’s disappointing.

The superintendent apologized to Gray, but what this community needs is not another apology. It needs real leadership.

The school district failed to keep parents and kids informed and it looks as if administrators tried to sweep this incident under the rug, just as they did when two students brought knives and a loaded BB gun to campus (“Samohi students busted with ninja knives,” April 8, page 1). Many parents didn’t learn of the arrests until the Daily Press reported it. All parents deserve to be notified when weapons are brought to campus, and the same goes for racially-charged acts, regardless of the severity.

There are those who will say we are going too far, that this was just a harmful prank and the kids involved were punished. We’re glad discipline was handed out, but racism isn’t something to gloss over, even if the students who committed this ignorant act were unaware of the hurtful history associated with nooses. This was a perfect opportunity for the administrators to bring the whole campus together and address racism and discrimination, and not leave it up to teachers of the Freshman Seminar. It was a teachable moment, but all we’ve learned is that the administration in our public school district is more concerned about protecting image than being open and transparent.

It’s clear that there is still work to be done at Samohi and other campuses to address hate. The Daily Press gives credit to the school board for planning to discuss the incident and its impact at its June 30 meeting. Examining policy, reinstituting the Intercultural District Advisory Committee and ensuring those hurt by the incident receive appropriate support is a step in the right direction. Let’s just hope those in power in the district realize that it is better to be honest and open, than to have to do damage control after the beans have been spilled. Stop worrying so much about reputation and how the district is perceived by those from the outside and pay more attention to solving problems that exist on the inside.

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