MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. – Three Mahopac students have been suspended – and the district anticipates more suspensions to follow – after directing racially charged Tweets toward Mount Vernon boys basketball players following the Thursday, Feb. 27 Section 1 championship semifinal at the Westchester County Center in White Plains.
Leaders from both districts met with state officials from the Commissioner of Education’s office and the governor’s Division of Human Rights and on Thursday to discuss the incident, which escalated quickly after a hotly contested 43-40 Mount Vernon victory.
According to interim Superintendent Judith Johnson, both districts have vowed to use this as an opportunity to educate about diversity and tolerance.
“We met to discuss the incidents, identify the points of contention and to agree on a number of next steps,” Public Information Officer Vanessa Ridder said on her behalf. “All of the steps discussed will be presented to each district’s Board of Education. They’ll focus on using this incident as a teachable moment.”
Tweets following the game included such racial remarks as “That’s why you shouldn’t let monkeys out of their cages,” and “tough loss boys, but at least we can talk to our dads about it.” Another Tweet that went viral included the image of a confederate flag.
Mahopac Superintendent Thomas Manko noted that none of the students that were suspended for the incident were members of the basketball team. More suspensions may be coming in the next week.
“The students are being held accountable. They have been suspended and will lose privileges for a long time,” he said.
Mark Davis, a Mount Vernon parent who didn’t attend the game, expressed shock and outrage when told about the incident on Thursday outside of the Longfellow Middle School.
“It’s 2014. It’s disgraceful that this is still something our children have to deal with,” he said. “They should bring down the hammer, and they should do it hard.”
In her complaint to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Education Commissioner John B. King, Johnson said that during the postgame handshake, there were racist remarks directed towards the team, and a confederate flag was prominently waving in the stands during the game. She recommended that the Mahopac basketball team be suspended for one year.
“As public officials, we share the responsibility of promoting fair and honest discussions about concerns of intolerance,” she wrote. “In an ongoing effort to create a climate of respect for all, we appreciate the opportunity to work together towards addressing these hurtful incidents within our individual districts and as a region.”
Johnson said that Mahopac violated the Dignity for All Students Act, and the cyber bullying needs to be taken seriously.
“While efforts to address a heightened awareness of the emotional and social damage that comes from being victims of racism were discussed, I also asked that we address the issues of social justice,” she said. “Our district will not stand idle in the face of violations of human rights. I continue to feel that the most effective way to combat injustice and discrimination in this country is to turn to the courts for evidence of laws that have been broken.”