Clovis Unified School District officials said on Monday that an investigation continues looking into racially demeaning social media messages that appear to have been posted by students over the weekend.
The social media messages were not directed at individual students or schools, but made reference to African Americans, and district spokeswoman Kelly Avants said administrators from high schools met with African American student and parent groups on Sunday to assure them that the district was taking the posts seriously.
The racial messages were revealed on Twitter with screenshots of a conversation that had been shared on Snapchat. The users in one post referred to black people by using the N-word and suggest they “jet on over to Africa and smuggle a new one over.”
Only about 3 percent of Clovis Unified students are black.
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On the return of students to classes Monday, meetings were being held in individual classrooms, and some schools were calling assemblies to address student concerns, Avants said. “Our first and foremost priority is to make all students feel affirmed, secure and confident” on campuses, she said.
Clovis High senior Andrew Scherf said school administrators said they’re disapppointed and that “this shouldn’t define us as a school and we need to make people saying stuff like this the minority.”
This is not the first time that Clovis Unified administrators have had to condemn racial incidents. In May 2016, Clovis High administrators reached out to African American students on campus after messages such as “Go Back 2 Africa (racial expletive)” were written several times on different stalls in boys’ restrooms. The student responsible was not identified, but the district said administrators cracked down on monitoring bathroom usage.
On Sunday, Clovis Unified Superintendent Eimear O’Farrell sent a message to all families in the district, calling the social messages intolerable. “Derogatory and inciting language such as was used in these messages has absolutely no place in our schools and is contradictory to the character and ethics we expect from our students,” O’Farrell said.
O’Farrell called on the community to show respect and unity. “I encourage all of us to stand together, and to model for our community’s youth the truth that our attitudes toward each other are not defined by the actions of a small isolated group of individuals,” she said.
Derogatory and inciting language such as was used in these messages has absolutely no place in our schools and is contradictory to the character and ethics we expect from our students.
Eimear O’Farrell, Clovis Unified superintendent
And on Monday, Sandy Budd, president of the Clovis Unified school board, condemned the online comments and said the board is committed to enforcing policies against discrimination and bullying. The messages are “counter to the mutual respect and good character we seek to develop in our school communities, Budd said.
The first racially charged message posted over the weekend was followed by an image sent by a user named “Williammm” that showed a white man about to whip a black man who is on the ground. The caption read: “I’m punishing him.”And another message followed with a graphic. “I caught my house (N-word) looking at chevys on Craiglist so I lynched him and his kids,” said the message, written by a user named “Jackson.”
At least one screenshot mentioned the Snapchat conversation was made by students in an “FFA group.” The FFA is the Future Farmers of America.
Lloyd McCabe, state FFA advisor and supervisor of agriculture education, said in a statement that the California FFA Association does not condone the insenstive and irrreponsible behavior on the part of any FFA member.
The FFA prides itself in being “diverse, open and engaging,” said Charles Parker, regional FFA supervisor for the San Joaquin Valley region. The messages are counter to what the FFA is all about, he said. “I can’t stress that enough. We don’t accept this. That is nothing we’re proud of or want to be associated with at all.”
If FFA members were involved in the messages, Parker said they need to be disciplined, but FFA would have no disciplinary authority over the students. “Those local programs are chartered. It will rest in the hands of the Clovis Unified School District,” he said.
But what action the district can take is uncertain since the posts appear to have been made on the weekend. “The first priority of our investigation is to determine what purview we have,” Avants said. “Then we will take the fullest extent of action available to us.”
Scherf said the First Amendment guarantees free speech. “And this was after school hours, on a weekend and on private social media,” he said. But the Clovis High senior said he hopes administrators do respond. “Honestly, in a case like this, I think you should take a hard stance and potentially expulsion, because this is a pretty serious thing, especially with what’s happening in the nation right now.”
Avants said the district has asked law enforcement for help in the investigation.