PIEDMONT, Calif. (Lisa Fernandez/KTVU) - Several Piedmont High School students have been suspended for their participation in acts that targeted fellow classmates based on their race or religion, district officials said Thursday.
Piedmont Unified Superintendent Randall Booker declined to identify the students who have been disciplined, how many were punished or what their gender is. But he said the district took action after school officials had investigated the racial harassment reports for several months.
"One student who had had enough reported it," Booker said, adding that the high school students are not prejudiced but that they are "uneducated and obtuse."
School officials told KTVU FOX 2 News that they were able confirm that:
- A group of students had formed a human swastika during class.
- A student was referred to as a "F---ing Jew.
- A student was told to "burn in Auschwitz."
- At least one student was called the N-word.
Until the suspensions were formally announced on Thursday, several parents and students at the school expressed frustration about the campus tensions and the lack of specifics. Some students who spoke out about the allegations were even called liars. The district held an assembly on Monday to address the racial tensions at the high school level, but the discussion was very vague.
Now that the details are out, Booker said that school leaders will spend two days next week in the high schools talking about what happened, and that over the summer, educators will come up with a curriculum to launch in the fall to curb bias and bigotry. "It has to be effective," Booker said.
As for this kind of attitude and behavior in the seemingly liberal Bay Area, Booker said he doesn't believe any of the suspended students have deep hatred of Jews or African-Americans. Instead, he said that technology allows all sorts of information - including hate-filled websites - readily available to all sorts of people, including students.
Meanwhile, a police investigation has also been launched. Police Chief Jeremy Bowers, who is black, said he empathizes with the victims of what he called “hateful incidents” because he was also harassed and called the N-word as a teen growing up in the Bay Area. He added, however, that at this point, it doesn't appear as though any crimes were committed.
“Just because it is a hate incident doesn’t mean it’s any less traumatic than a hate crime,” said Bowers, who is the top law enforcement officer for the affluent enclave that is home to 11,000 residents. "Especially with what’s going on in our country right now. I take these allegations extremely seriously. The conduct reported is not acceptable in our community.”
Bowers added: "I understand what these kids are going through. It happened to me too. They shouldn't have to remain quiet."
Bowers also said that he hopes students come forward and report any bullying or criminal behavior to the district, and to him. "My door is always open," he said.
Bowers promised that at the end of his investigation there would “definitely be community engagement, and not just once” on the topic.
“We should not shrink from these issues,” Bowers said. “We need to shine a light on what’s going on here.”