CONNEAUT LAKE, Pa. – District 10 addressed a pair of racial incidents directed at Farrell during the past week at its regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday, Oct.4, at the Iroquois Club in Conneaut Lake.
Incidents addressed included one at a Sept. 28 Farrell at Jamestown volleyball match and one involving a social media post by a Lakeview student.
The main focus was on the incident at Jamestown High School that involved a few Jamestown students wearing red bonnets or sleeping caps as part of a “pajama-themed” night (see this link to Ken Moyer’s Facebook page – note that there may be language written on the video that is inappropriate for certain age levels). Many historians have pointed out that head-wraps were worn by enslaved women and were seen by their white European masters as a sign of poverty and subordination, according to PBS New York.
While Jamestown conducted “a thorough investigation and concluded that the students had no intentional or malicious intent” according to Jamestown’s superintendent Tracy Reiser, the District 10 committee believed that investigation to be “incomplete” and wants to see more from the school regarding the incident and the response.
“I believe the report is incomplete,” District 10 chairman Pete Iacino said. “I think details need to be in writing, for future activities to address these issues. We want to see the entire detail in writing, as opposed to just verbally before the committee makes a determination as to whether that is significant enough, as well as plans moving forward. No one can absolutely guarantee something won’t happen, but we can make sure you are doing all you can to make sure something won’t happen in the future. What precautions you might take to games at Farrell or at Jamestown? That to me is missing. That would be my recommendation.”
Earlier in the week, Farrell said it wasn’t satisfied with the Jamestown investigation and said it would be filing a formal complaint with the PIAA.
“While we acknowledge Jamestown School District’s response and purported investigation into the incident occurring at a girls’ varsity volleyball match, we feel that it is in the best interests of our student-athletes to move forward with filing a formal complaint with the governing bodies to ensure that a complete and unbiased investigation is done,” said Farrell Superintendent Dr. Lora Adams-King told Bob Greenberg of Sports Radio 96.7 FM. “We simply cannot stand by and allow for such flagrant conduct to be excused as unintentional.”
Iacino acknowledged that Wednesday was merely a discussion with Jamestown, not a hearing. In addition to Reiser, Jamestown principal Brian Keyser and athletic director Julie DeMarco were also at the D10 meeting.
“Mr. Keyser and myself talked the morning after the incident, and he told me to hold because his superintendent wanted to be part of the conversation,” said District 10 Vice Chairman Kirk Scurpa. “They went through the steps that they had taken and everything they answered. I was impressed by the immediacy and the steps that they had taken. We were all able to hear what they have done since then.”
Reiser went into more detail at Wednesday’s meeting about the actions Jamestown had taken and said the district met with each student, as well as their families.
“We talked to each of the four students involved separately,” Reiser said. “Our finding was that there was poor judgment, but no malicious intent. We then reached out to each family and talked to them about our investigation into their children and the backlash the district was facing. Their limited exposure (to other cultures) was obvious.”
Reiser also said additional steps are being explored in regard to that exposure.
“We have been contacted by Dr. Erin Houston of the Shenango Valley Urban League about her coming to speak at the school,” Reiser said. “We will meet with the school board to discuss Dr. Houston coming to speak to our students.”
Keyser said that he also met with each individual grade the day after the incident took place.
“This is what I shared with our students,” Keyer said. “At last night’s volleyball match, students wore sleep caps that were considered to be offensive by some of the Farrell players and fans. Poor judgment was evident, but we don’t believe there was any malicious intent. As a result of a post on Facebook, our school district is being painted as one which allows blatant racism to visitors. I know that’s not who we are, but we must do better the next time in a similar setting. I must do a better job of preparing and helping you realize that we need to think about what we wear, say, or do and how it can affect others who may be different than us. I’m not just talking about the color of skin, but those who have different ideas than you or I do.
“Number one, if you think something may offend someone then it probably will. This goes with clothing, slogans, words, and behaviors. Number two, if you aren’t sure something may be offensive then ask an adult. The adults or school will be able to help you make an informed decision about whether something you were to say or do that offend someone else. And three, if you unintentionally offend someone, apologize to them. Due to the situation at last night’s match, we have issued a public apology to the Farrell Area School District. We also wanted to let them know that we will do a better job in the future to be more socially aware. I not only work here in this district, but I live among you and love this community that has been my home for 28 years. I don’t want neighboring communities to think we’re a bunch of racist rednecks. I know I’m not one and neither are you. Let’s work together to change that perception.”
Three Farrell residents were in attendance, including McKel Gordon, who commended Jamestown on the actions they are taking.
“This is why we came, to see how someone from the outside can come and educate, so we are glad to hear you may be bringing in Dr. Houston,” Gordon said. “These are not items sitting next to pajama bottoms at Walmart. You have to go to a special section to purchase them, so the students had to be aware of what they were doing. I hope you have a willingness to open your ears and want to learn. We just ask that you continue to educate yourself and your students.”
Mike Fitzgerald, a member of the D10 committee and Sharon High School principal, stressed the importance of educating students on the matter.
“In writing your report, provide us with a final outtake and feedback from students and how it’s going to be done,” Fitzgerald said. “Doing something just to do it isn’t meaningful unless you get something out of it. Whatever actions you take to educate your students, there has to be an outcome desired at the end. And how do you measure if that outcome is successful? We want to see the measure of success of the actions.”
The committee also talked about the incident involving the social media post by a Lakeview student, which came to light Tuesday, Oct. 3.
Iacino said Adams-King sent District 10 the video in question and field an official complaint with the District.
District 10 asked Lakeview to investigate the issue and report back to the District.
Immediately after finding out about the incident, Lakeview issued the following statement:
“The Lakeview School District is deeply troubled and saddened to address a recent incident in which an inappropriate and racist video was posted by a student,” the post read. “We take this matter extremely seriously and are committed to fostering a safe, inclusive, and respectful environment for all members of our community.
“The video in question came to our attention on Oct. 3, 2023, and we immediately launched an investigation to ascertain the facts and determine the appropriate actions to be taken. Our primary concern is to ensure the well-being of our students and maintain a campus environment that is free from discrimination, racism, and harassment.
We want to make it unequivocally clear that we do not condone, support, or tolerate any form of racism, discrimination, or hate speech within our school district. Such actions are not only a violation of our code of conduct but also run counter to our core values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“We understand that this incident has deeply affected our school community as well as that of the Farrell Area School District, and we are committed to healing and learning from it. We sincerely apologize to the students, staff, administration and community of the Farrell School District. We will continue to work diligently to create an environment where every member feels valued and respected.
“We encourage all members of our community to report any incidents of racism, discrimination, or harassment promptly. Your voice and input are crucial in helping us maintain a safe and inclusive learning environment.
We remain dedicated to our mission of providing a quality education while fostering an atmosphere of respect, understanding, and empathy for all. Together, we can build a stronger and more inclusive school community.”