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Mother of Samohi Racial Harassment Victim Not Satisfied with District's Response
By Jason Islas
June 22, 2011 – Almost two months after her son, a sophomore at Santa Monica High School, was harassed by two of his wrestling teammates, Victoria Gray is still unsatisfied with the school district's response.
Gray told The Lookout Monday that she thinks school administrators deliberately tried to keep the racial harassment of her son as quiet as possible, which, she says, is why she was never notified, but had to hear about the incident from another parent.
Gray said her son, an African-American boy, was cornered in the locker room by two of his wrestling teammates and locked to a locker while the students allegedly shouted “Slave for sale!” Also, the students posed a human-sized dummy used by the team for practice with a noose.
Once she became aware of what had happened, her son told her he didn't want to make a big deal about the whole thing because he didn't want to jeopardize the wrestling program.
Gray said that her son told her that Leslie Wells, the principal of H House at Samohi, told him that the incident could get the whole wrestling program canceled.
Calls made to Santa Monica-Malibu School District Superintendent Tim Cuneo on Monday and Tuesday were unanswered when this article went to print, and Wells responded to an email by saying he couldn’t talk about the incident.
Cuneo has stated that though some of the students used their phones to take pictures of the dummy with the noose, administrators collected their phones and destroyed the pictures.
The event, which Samohi's Principal Dr. Hugo Pedroza called “an incident with racial overtones” in an e-mail to parents, happened in early May.
Gray's son didn't report the incident after it happened, but a female student, also on the wrestling team, did.
“I'm very disappointed,” said Gray.
Speaking at a special School Board meeting Thursday, Gray made it a point to emphasize that the school's lack of disclosure was a major source of her frustration.
“There is no district policy that assures parents will be informed when their children are victims of harassment or bullying,” she told Cuneo and the members of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education.
Cuneo offered Gray a public apology at Thursday's meeting, calling it “our failure” that she had not been notified and had to hear about what happened to her son from another parent, and not from school administrators.
Gray said she didn't think the students responsible have been punished enough. She said that they had been suspended for three days, but according to the District's policy on hate-motivated behavior, the police were supposed to be notified.
When Board Member Oscar de la Torre asked Cuneo why the police hadn't been called, despite the noose being considered a hate symbol in the state of California, Cuneo said he did not know why Samohi administrators didn't call the police.
Pedroza's e-mail said that the whole wrestling team had received sensitivity education, but Gray thought that more intensive sensitivity training for the students who had harassed her son would be in order.
She also said that Cuneo wouldn't give her a copy of the full incident report, citing privacy concerns for the students involved.
A third point that Gray said Cuneo won't budge on was her request to have the District's policy on “hate motivated behavior” sent home for parents to sign at the beginning of every school year, like the cell-phone use policy currently is.
Cuneo said at the meeting he thought it was unnecessary to separate the policy out, as it is already included in the student handbook.Gray said that she plans to talk to incoming superintendent Sandra Lyon about the issue. She said she hopes that Lyon's response will be more thorough.
“There is no district policy that assures parents will be informed when their children are victims of harassment or bullying.” Victoria Gray
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