Superintendent of Lawrence schools addresses racially bias incident

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The last couple of weeks have been ones of healing and reflection for Lawrence High School and middle school students, following a bias incident at Lawrence High School’s homecoming football game on Oct. 18.

Two 17-year-old Lawrence High School boys allegedly taunted a group of four Lawrence Middle School black girls, using the “n-word.” One allegedly urinated on one of the girls. The boys, who are of Indian descent, have been charged with bias crimes.

“The whole community was hurt [by the incident]. There was anger, upset and frustration. These are young kids,” said Superintendent of Schools Ross Kasun.

It is not clear how the incident started, but it does not appear that it was racially motivated at the outset, Kasun said. It became a racially charged incident when it escalated and the boys hurled a slur at the girls.

“It rose to a place where it should never, ever occur – anywhere,” Kasun said. “We have no acceptance or tolerance for that [behavior].”

School district officials, however, have turned an unpleasant incident into a teachable moment by reaching out to talk to high school and middle school students.

The staff has been meeting with the students in small groups to talk about the incident and share their feelings, and to discuss “how we can grow, do better and learn from it,” Kasun said.

The students are upset at how the incident and the school district have been portrayed by some media outlets, Kasun said. It was an isolated incident, and not indicative of the district, he said.

“This is not Lawrence, this is not who we are. This behavior is not acceptable or tolerated,” Kasun said. “The students are accepting of each other, regardless of race or ethnicity.”

Nevertheless, it does show that there if definitely bias in the world, he said. It is a clear indicator that more work needs to be done in the schools and in the community to encourage people to become more accepting of others, he said.

“We are taking what we have learned from the students, and we are going to put in actionable steps. We are working on steps to improve the climate and the culture for all of our students,” Kasun said.

Some changes have already been made, Kasun said. Lawrence Middle School students are getting their own bleacher at the football field, away from the Lawrence High School students’ bleachers.

The areas behind the bleachers will be blocked off, Kasun said. It is believed that this is where the incident began.

Lawrence Middle School students will need a parent or another adult to sign them in when they attend a football game, Kasun said. It provides a measure of accountability.

The sign-in rule does not apply to high school students.

Lawrence High School students will not be able to bring a backpack or water bottles to the football games.

The students had been squirting water from a bottle whenever the football team scored a touchdown, Kasun said.

Although no one knows what triggered the incident at the Oct. 18 football game, the high school students may have squirted the younger students and a yelling match ensued.

And while the school district has always provided security at the football games, more security guards will attend the games and walk around to provide a visible presence, Kasun said. They will be monitoring the students and their behavior.