‘No tolerance for racist behavior.’ District reacts to video made by State High student

The State College Area School District is addressing an incident of a State High student who made a video using racist language that was shared on social media Thursday night.
The State College Area School District is addressing an incident of a State High student who made a video using racist language that was shared on social media Thursday night. Centre Daily Times, file

State College Area School District is addressing an incident in which a State High student used “racially insensitive” language in a self-made video that was shared on social media by another student.

Lorraine Jones, a SCASD parent and member of Standing Up for Racial Justice, said the group was contacted Thursday by SCASD students of color and their families who said a racist video was posted on Snapchat by a State High student, which the school district has confirmed.

The student was using racial slurs in the video, which was posted Thursday night and was still circulating on Friday, Jones said. SURJ leadership and the State College chapter of the NAACP have been in contact with the school district about the incident, she said.

A joint statement Friday from Superintendent Bob O’Donnell and State High Principal Curtis Johnson said the district has “no tolerance for racist behavior and will always address these acts immediately.”

The school district has identified the students who made and shared the video, and is working with them and their families.

“While this act didn’t happen in school, our student handbook states that behavior causing a school disturbance will have consequences. Therefore, the students involved will be held accountable for their behavior,” O’Donnell and Johnson said in the statement, which was also sent to SCASD K-12 families.

Even though the video was not filmed on school property, Jones said, “the dynamics of these acts of hate spill over” to school grounds. Students of color and their families “are outraged and hurt by these ongoing expressions of bias that continue to be so pervasive throughout the school district,” she said.

The district’s leadership team planned to hold a meeting Friday to “address the situation and initiate a response,” said the statement. District leadership informed high school teachers about the incident and gave guidance on how to best support students.

Counselors and administrators, including representatives from the Office of Equity and Inclusivity, are available to students and parents to answer questions and facilitate conversations, they said.

“The video is an indicator of the need for ongoing antiracist education for all students in the district,” said Jones. “Acts of hate have not been taken seriously in the district. The video is a reflection of the unaddressed hostile racial school climate students of color are forced to learn in year after year.”

“We feel concern for our community and acknowledge the hurt caused by this video,” O’Donnell and Johnson said in the statement.

The statement also includes suggestions for parents on how to discuss the situation with their children, a similar list of which was also provided to teachers:

  • State what you know has happened.
  • Recognize the offensive nature of the act and the hurt it causes.
  • State that the school is taking steps in response to the incident.
  • Affirm that supports exist in the school, such as the counseling office, and encourage students to reach out.
  • State that the students in question will face consequences based on district policy.
  • Please find some resources including a tip sheet and guide on how to discuss hate-related incidents from the Anti-Defamation League and taped webinars on how to discuss race with kids from EmbraceRace.

The school district declined to share the student-made video or provide a transcript.

In a mini-documentary last year, current and past SCASD students and parents discussed racism experienced in State College schools. The district was also criticized by some parents and students about two separate proposals to provide Papa John’s pizza, citing the ex-CEO’s racist comments. Later, the school board rejected the proposal.

In an effort to increase diversity and sensitivity among staff and students, the district hired its first director of diversity and inclusivity last year. Seria Chatters is working with the administration “to build a comprehensive professional development plan aimed at training our faculty and staff in integrating culturally responsive pedagogy and restorative practice,” Superintendent Bob O’Donnell told the CDT last year.