One parent says the Shelton High School administration failed her in a case involving a racially charged video seen by students on social media late last year.
The parent, who has asked to remain unnamed, said an African-American high school student was sent an 11-second video via Snapchat in December. In that video, the parent said one high school student was heard using a racial slur several times and another was in what could be construed as black face.
The student’s parent alerted the high school administration, but outside of an apology to her from a member of the faculty, who she said was not Beth Smith, nothing was done to alert the school community about the incident — specifically whether an investigation was taking place — and what steps would be taken in response to better promote racial tolerance in the school.
Smith, who was principal at the time, is unavailable to comment because she remains on paid administrative leave in connection with an unrelated criminal investigation into if high school staff properly follow protocols and procedures, in accordance with state law, when dealing with potentially criminal incidents involving students.
School Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet confirmed that Smith, who he placed on paid leave March 28, is under investigation by law enforcement and other agencies regarding a situation. Clouet could not comment on what prompted the probe and what other agencies are involved, other than to see the incident occurred early in the week of March 24-29.
Clouet confirmed Thursday that he is aware of the racist video and appropriate actions were taken at the time of the report in December.
“We recognize that racism has played a role in the United States since its founding, but I would say that Shelton High School, specifically, is not an especially racial or hostile environment,” said Clouet. “That said, there are always things that can be done better.”
Clouet said the video report was investigated and, since there was not a pattern of such behavior displayed with the students involved with the video, this was treated as an isolated incident and the students were reprimanded. He said that the girls were given a written assignment, with a focus on racial tolerance, and also told to apologize to the student who was sent the video.
But the parent said she felt the punishment was too light and the incident was “swept under the rug.” She added that the entire school community should have been informed and actions taken, in a broader sense, to promote racial tolerance throughout the high school.
“They spoke to my son, but no one spoke to me until I reached out,” said the parent. “There was no acknowledgment of what happened. Many students were adversely affected by what was posted. This affected many minorities in the school. My problem is I had to seek out information on what was going on.
“And when this latest investigation started, it just made me think, ‘here we go again.’ Will this be swept under the rug, too?” the parent asked.
Clouet said this video incident, combined with an unrelated incident of intolerance, promoted him to form an Anti-Bias Committee later in December. He said the committee meets on a regular basis to discuss any issues of racial intolerance in the schools and ways to create an even more tolerant environment for all students, whatever the race or religion.
Clouet said that, next week, Anti-Defamation League representatives will be making a presentation to teachers and administration staff, focusing on hate crimes and protocols that should be used when dealing with those issues.
“We take this issue very seriously,” Clouet said. “The Anti-Defamation League takes this seriously as well, and they are the first to say it is not always the best practice to make a big announcement in this type of situation. This is serious. Racism is serious issue. We are not sweeping this under the rug, but it does not always need to be a public forum.”