School racial incidents in Coatesville, Washington Twp. and Quakertown: A recap

The bus loop entrance at Cheltenham High School in Wyncote, PA, Friday, Sept. 8, 2017.

Over the past week, several racially charged incidents have taken place at area schools. Here’s what you need to know about what happened and how the schools are responding:

Racial Conflict at Local High Schools

Quakertown and Cheltenham

At Quakertown Community High School on Oct. 6, racial slurs and hateful comments were hurled at Cheltenham High School cheerleaders during a football game. Some students also said that Cheltenham’s schools buses were pelted with rocks. Quakertown Superintendent Bill Harner said the perpetrators were a small group of middle-school students, but added “This is not just a one-time incident. We have a problem.”

Washington Township

A fight between white and black students broke out at Washington Township High School on Wednesday, a day after a text-message exchange among white students that used the N-word went viral. On Thursday, about 170 students — black and white — skipped classes and staged an hours-long sit-in at the school to protest the racist texting. Some students said previous racial incidents have not been adequately addressed by school officials.

Coatesville

Several hundred students at Coatesville Area High School students walked out of school Friday morning in a protest against racism prompted by a posting by schoolmates on social media showing pumpkins carved with a swastika and KKK on them. Superintendent Cathy Taschner says the district will “exercise its full authority” to send a message that the picture and carvings are not acceptable. Earlier this month, a black baby doll was found hanging in a Coatesville High School locker with a tie around its neck, an incident Taschner called a “foolish prank,” not a hate crime.

SOURCES: Staff reports; Pa. Dept. of Education; N.J. Dept. of Education
Staff Graphic

Coatesville

With Halloween coming, some Coatesville Area High School students went on social media to show off their pumpkin carving. The carvings revealed a swastika and “KKK.”

The school district said it would “exercise its full authority” to send a message that the picture and carvings were not acceptable. Coatesville students said with their feet that wasn’t enough. In protest, several hundred of them walked out of class Friday morning.

The offensive pumpkin carvings come after a black doll was found hanging in a locker at the school earlier this month. Superintendent Cathy Taschner called that incident a “foolish prank,” though others wanted it called a hate crime.

Making the incidents especially troublesome is that Coatesville is one of the most diverse schools in the area.

Washington Township

At Washington Township High School, students staged a sit-in Thursday in the school lobby after some white students, most of them athletes, exchanged social-media messages with racial slurs, leading to a confrontation between some white and black students.

Some students said that there had been similar incidents previously, and that school officials had not adequately addressed their concerns.

“We needed to get their attention,” said Kayla Webster, 16, a junior, who helped lead the demonstration and is president of the school’s African American cultural club. “We wanted to make a statement that this is not OK. The students want change.”

Classes on Friday resumed without incident or protest.

More than a dozen students who were involved in the racist texting, and the scuffle that followed, as well as those who videotaped the fight, were suspended, said School Superintendent Joseph Bollendorf.

According to a screenshot of the Snapchat post obtained by the Inquirer and Daily News, the N-word was used several times. “ya’ll think your cool cause the color of your skins, black, but I think we should bring the kkk back,”  one said. At one point, someone expressed concern about the group “getting into trouble in school [because] there is screenshots of us saying” the N-word.

The fight broke out Wednesday morning, when black students confronted the white students, telling them to “Say it to my face,” according to senior Naszir Johnson.

This season, the school has its first black football coach, Lamont Robinson.

Cheltenham goes to Quakertown

Earlier this month, when Cheltenham High School played at Quakertown Community High School, Cheltenham’s cheerleaders were called whores, bitches and the N-word when they took the field.

And the bigots, like the cheerleaders, were just warming up.

Cheltenham students said people jeered at them, saying “black lives don’t matter” and “don’t shoot me.” When it was time to leave, opposing fans pelted Cheltenham’s school buses with rocks. The Cheltenham cheerleading coach was afraid to let his squad use the restroom.

Two middle school students from Quakertown have been identified as culprits — but the Cheltenham students claim the bad behavior was not restricted to two people.

“I profusely apologize and I’m embarrassed,” said Quakertown superintendent William E. Harner, a 1974 graduate of Cheltenham High School. “On behalf of our community, I apologize for what happened. My heart was broken and that’s what I told everybody when I found out about it.”

Harner also acknowledged that the case was not a one-time incident. “We do have a problem,” he said.

Some Cheltenham cheerleader said Quakertown superintendent’s apology wasn’t enough.

“If it was coming from your heart, you would have come to our school immediately,” one of the girls said.

 

Staff writers Erin McCarthy, Melanie Burney and Jenice Armstrong contributed to this report.