Analy High School students accused of racist insults and threats

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A Santa Rosa couple says their mixed-race son was subjected to racist insults and threats over two years at Analy High School and that when they reported it to school officials in August, none of the alleged perpetrators was punished.

They say the school’s inaction allows and encourages a hostile, threatening learning environment, and they are hoping to force change by speaking out about it now.

The district superintendent denies the Sebastopol high school has a race problem and said students often police themselves when they see peers acting inappropriately. Analy has 1,300 pupils, 75 percent of whom are white and 5 percent of whom are black or biracial.

The boy, Evan Mack, spent a month at the beginning of this school year on independent study after his parents formally complained to the district. He didn’t feel safe at school after being called racist names and otherwise racially harassed in class, at football practice and on social media, said his mother, Raquel Mack.

Mack has since transferred to another school and is succeeding academically and is much happier, she said.

But his mother said that’s not enough. She and her husband, John, are not satisfied with what she calls a perfunctory and incomplete investigation by the school.

School officials did not question several involved students and staff members, and the investigation only touched on two of numerous incidents the Macks reported, according to a copy of the findings provided by the Macks.

“What does it say when you go to an institution like a school that is supposed to be a safe place, and they don’t do anything to help, and, in fact, make it more difficult on your child?” she said.

“People need to know. There will be other black kids who go through the school system there. I don’t want them to go through this.”

Safeguards questioned

West Sonoma County Union High School District Superintendent Steven Kellner said he couldn’t speak directly about the incidents because of student privacy rights. He maintains Analy and the other west county campuses have “a positive school culture.”

The school trains a handful of students each year as “safe school ambassadors” who “intervene directly with students when they see conflict arise, whether it’s physical or virtual,” Kellner said. Or they can enlist the help of an adult if it rises to a higher level, he said.

While race-based incidents don’t appear to be rampant in Sonoma County, they do crop up occasionally, according to school officials. At least twice in recent years in Sonoma County — including in 2009 at Analy — students have performed sketches meant to be funny but that were perceived as racially insensitive.

Nationally, harassment, bullying and similar behavior have forced school districts to face racism and sexual harassment issues that include name-calling, as well as threatening comments in person and through social media.

Several youths have committed suicide after being incessantly harassed and some states have passed laws making cyberbullying illegal, while some have prosecuted such behavior under existing laws.

The Mack family said Analy’s safeguards and supervision repeatedly failed her son during a period from the beginning of the 2013-14 school year through this past summer, when Evan was the subject of racist insults and threats on social media just before school began.

“There has been no accountability, and no tangible resolution of the harassment, bullying and discrimination that Evan experienced,” Raquel Mack said. The school and district “made no real attempt to reassure us of our 16-year-old son’s physical safety.”

An Aug. 28 letter from Analy Principal Chris Heller to the Macks outlined results of the school’s investigation into the family’s complaints, which were conveyed to Kellner and Analy administration in an Aug. 10 meeting with the Macks.

The district’s letter said one student who threatened in a Facebook private message to “rip the black off” Evan was spoken to on the first day of school.

The assistant principal “warned him about any continued harassment resulting in school disciplinary actions,” the letter says.

Another student was not contacted about an Instagram post in which he called Evan a racial epithet and threatened him: “Just because your (sic) a n— and think like that doesn’t mean I do but I will punch you in the f— mouth.”

That boy apparently no longer attends Analy, so the school did not pursue the issue further.

Insults documented

John Mack asked the district to look into several Analy and El Molino students who “liked” the Instagram post. The Macks took the likes as an endorsement of the sentiments expressed in the post.

The Macks compiled a 21-page record of the incidents Evan relayed to his parents and the family’s interactions with school vice principals, the principal, the district superintendent and district legal counsel.

It documents Evan’s descriptions of name-calling and race-based threats in his freshman and sophomore years, screen shots of the threatening comments from the summer, and written communications between the Macks and school personnel.

The Macks haven’t pursued a lawsuit, though they did receive legal assistance in getting Evan’s independent study program approved when they disagreed with the school’s assessment that it was safe enough for him to return to regular classes.

According to the Macks’ report, the behavior started in Evan’s 2013-14 school year, when he was a freshman and played on the football team. Evan didn’t tell his parents about the incidents until the threatening social media posts in August.

Mack, now a junior attending a different school, was asked by a fellow football player, “Why don’t you talk black?”

The same player, the report states, began using the N-word frequently, continuing after Evan asked him to stop and told him it was offensive.

Three other boys, two of whom were football players, sang the lyrics to “White Girl with a N—,” a country song rife with X-rated, sexist and racist language.

Another incident from the same year, involving a football player who was a member of last fall’s varsity team, states the boy called Evan the racial epithet in a social studies class.

Soon after, Evan talked to his debate teacher about the incidents, his mother said, but asked that no action be taken because he feared any official steps would result in worse social repercussions. The teacher didn’t take any action, the Macks said.

In Evan’s sophomore year, the documentation claims, a song called “Beat on the N—” was played in the locker room, and a fellow football player — the same one who asked why Evan didn’t “talk black” — pantomimed hitting Evan while mouthing the lyrics.

The same boy shouted racial epithets as he drove by Evan in a truck, the documentation alleges.

Another football player, one of the boys who sang the offensive song the prior year, wrote a series of letters he said stood for white power on his football mouthpiece, the report states. He later changed it to a Confederate flag drawing, Evan told his parents.

“They saw that it bothered him — the N-word, the Confederate flag on the mouthpiece,” Raquel Mack said, “so they kept doing it, in the hallways, on the football field.”

A different football player, who played on the varsity team this season, is alleged to have shouted the racial epithet when he was injured or unhappy during practice, the Macks’ report states. An assistant coach is alleged to have heard him once and told him to “knock it off.”

The behavior continued, Raquel Mack said.

She said her son kept the incidents to himself because neither the debate teacher nor the football coach took any action. He also feared retribution if he spoke out, she said.

Over the summer, two directly threatening incidents occurred over social media, she said.

Raquel Mack’s report includes screen shots of the incidents and the ensuing comment threads.

Football coach questioned

In early August, an Analy student — who officials said did not enroll at the school this year — posted a meme on Instagram depicting a white, bearded biker with the words, “Remember when white boys were proud to be white? Some still are.”

When Evan responded that the picture was racist, the poster replied “How could you have pride in your race? Your (sic) black, and blacks are taking advantage of the welfare system, filling prisons, the most crime, and burning OUR F— FLAG!”

When Mack asked if the boy was a “white supremacist f—,” the poster replied, “Yea I’m tired of you f— people … Just because your (sic) a n— and think like that doesn’t mean I do but I will punch you in the f— mouth.”

A different student then sent Mack a private message on Facebook two days later saying, “Now I’m gonna rip the black off you myself now ... You wait and see.”

Because that boy had a profile photo of him firing a rifle at what appears to be a firing range, the Macks felt he was capable of violence and his threat should have been taken more seriously.

The principal’s letter to the Macks did not describe any punishment other than the warning issued to the one who sent the Facebook message.

The school report said a substitute social studies teacher who was present when a student called Evan a racist word in class couldn’t be located. Administrators did not contact the debate teacher, who was out on long-term medical leave this school year.

School officials said they asked head football coach Daniel Bourdon about the alleged use of the N-word at team practices.

“We discussed the need for coaches and players to be more aware of language used during football events to ensure all players feel supported,” Heller wrote.

In an interview with The Press Democrat, Bourdon reiterated that he had never heard those kind of comments at practice and said it wouldn’t be tolerated.

“If we did, that kid wouldn’t be part of our program,” he said. “That clearly is not part of our program. We definitely don’t condone that kind of behavior. If we saw that kind of behavior, there would be disciplinary action.”

Superintendent Kellner said there have been no disciplinary incidents involving “white power” or similar sentiments at Analy. There is no list of hateful or racist words or symbols that would automatically invite discipline.

“We don’t have microphones. We can’t monitor 2,200 students’ speech,” he said, using the district’s enrollment figure. “While we all know that some particular words can be very hurtful, I think it’s actually limiting to focus on a list of words. It’s better to think about the way we talk to each other.”

Family unsure of next step

Raquel Mack said the lack of any meaningful action by the district empowers more hateful speech.

“It’s troubling,” she said. “It really reinforces that these people are going to be protected when they say things like this.

“One of them got a talking to, and then they expect my son to go back to a campus where (the students who used racist language) know they were told on. No concern, no compassion for the safety of Evan.”

School board trustee Diane Landry said because of confidentiality rules she couldn’t comment beyond saying that the complaint was handled.

Board Clerk David Stecher said it was concerning that the Macks were left feeling the investigation was unsatisfactory. The family could seek a formal appeal of the school’s decisions.

“The family has raised additional concerns,” he said. “The family is not satisfied with the resolution, and therefore there will be an additional look at the situation.

“We take these things very seriously,” he said, adding that he hasn’t seen the report the Macks compiled. “There are things about the additional input that need to go back to the site administrator for additional review, and then she has the ability to bring this to the board to essentially appeal or request additional review.”

Raquel Mack has said she isn’t sure what the family’s next step is. The report is ready to be sent out to about 20 recipients in federal departments of education and civil rights, to the county Board of Supervisors and educators, the ACLU and NAACP representatives, the county Human Rights Commission, and local and state legislators.

“I want accountability,” she said. “I think my son deserves an apology for the way the school treated him. And there needs to be an anti-racism curriculum for students and faculty, because, clearly, they don’t know what to do.”

You can reach Lori A. Carter at 521-5470 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @loriacarter.

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