Crisis team to be on-site at Vo-Tech after reports of racial harassment

Published Nov. 10, 2016 with David Weissman.

Representatives from the state Department of Education and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, as well as a crisis response team from the Lincoln Intermediate Unit, will be at the York County School of Technology Friday after minority students reported racial harassment following Tuesday’s election.

Freshmen Victorria Markle and Eibreha Drayden told The York Dispatch the harassment started in early October, but escalated after Republican Donald Trump was elected president Tuesday.

Victorria and Eibreha said many students left school early Wednesday and didn’t show up Thursday. They said they spoke with the principal and were told school officials are looking into any reported harassment.

However, the students said they don’t think enough has been done. According to 15-year-old Eibreha, the offending students get a talking-to, but no discipline is taken.

“They’re saying it’s under control,” Victorria, 14, said. “The students are still in the classroom learning when we don’t get to learn because of the comments they are making towards us.”

Victorria hails from York City School School District while Eibreha comes from Dallastown School District.

Ongoing?: short video taken by a 14-year-old student, Talianna Credille, at the school shows students holding a Trump sign, and voice can be heard saying “white power.”

Comments posted under the video, which had more than 720 shares, suggest minority students at the school have been dealing with the issue throughout the election.

Renie Mezzanotte, spokeswoman for Vo-Tech, said administrators have handed down disciplinary actions to students involved in the video, which was taken Wednesday morning before first period. As for any other claims of racial harassment or threats, Mezzanotte said she was unsure if those claims were substantiated. She said the school had no incidents on Thursday.

Talianna disagreed, saying she attended school Thursday morning but decided to have her mother pick her up because of ongoing incidents, “It was just crazy; there were a lot of things happening,” she said, adding several fights broke out and more students have been suspended.

The school sent out an automated phone message to parents late Thursday morning, according to York NAACP President Sandra Thompson, who said a parent forwarded the alert to her.

Thompson said the message indicated that school officials spoke to all first-period classes to address reports of harassment.

But Victorria and Eibreah both said the principal merely told students they could not participate in a “blackout” planned for Friday to raise awareness of the issue. Students had been planning to dress all in black, hence the term blackout.

Racial epithets alleged: Eibreah, who is part Mexican, said she has been called “Papi,” whistled at like a dog and told that she will be sent over the wall. Trump has pledged to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico to keep illegal immigrants out of the country.

Victorria, who is part black, said that she has been called the N-word, has been threatened with stabbing and murder and has heard people referring to her and other black students as slaves in the hallway. This morning, Victorria said that as she excited the school bus she was met by a “rally” of kids who barked and shouted at her and other minority students.

Talianna also has heard threats shouted toward minority students in the hall, including the N-word and students saying that they would, “shoot us up in the school,” she said. “The school doesn’t have metal detectors or anything and they don’t check students, so who knows if we’re actually safe at school.”

Talianna, whose home district is York City, said that she is looking into switching to a new school because of the incidents, which she says have been happening for weeks.

Thompson told The York Dispatch on Wednesday that York’s NAACP received reports of white students at one local high school yelling “Trump” at students of color.

She confirmed Thursday that the report came from York County School of Technology and said she’s since received other reports, including female students reporting unwanted sexual advances. Victorria’s mother, Tammy Markle, also said that female students have been inappropriately grabbed at in the halls.

Victorria, Eibreah and Tammy Markle all said that they have spoken with the school’s principal several times about the incidents, but they have essentially been told to keep quiet.

“People told me and my mom, ‘Don’t tell anyone,'” Victorria said.

Karen Snyder, Eibreah’s mother, said her daughter met with the principal weeks earlier about being called names, but she was scolded herself for referring to these students as “country people.”

Snyder said she doesn’t want her daughter to run from the issues because she can get a better education at Vo-Tech, but she also wants to ensure Eibreah’s safety.

Eibreah will be back at school Friday, and Snyder said she’s hopeful the media attention will cause the school’s administration to take these reports more seriously.

A second automated call was placed to parents at 7:30 p.m. Thursday:

“We … want to assure you that with recent incidents that have been shared on social media we have put supports in place for tomorrow to ensure safety of all students and to assist students who would like to share concerns,” the unidentified woman said. “We have teamed up with representatives from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and a team of diversity counselors from the Lincoln Intermediate Unit crisis response team who will be on site tomorrow working with our dedicated faculty and staff to work together and to assure that all of our students are provided a safe environment for learning.”

Keeping students home: York City resident Shawn Minnich, whose 16-year-old son is a junior at the school, said he had heard from his son reports of groups of students marching through the hallways shouting the N-word and harassing other students. He asked that his son not be named in the paper. His niece also attends the school, and he and his sister kept their children out of school Thursday because of the harassment.

Though Minnich’s son is not a minority, he said he does not want his son around people who would do and say such things, particularly because his niece and many members of his family are minorities. He said he’s most upset that the school has “acted like it was no big deal.”

“The lady at the front desk acted like there was nothing going on, and we had to get information from the kids at the school about what’s going on there,” he said, talking about picking up his son from school yesterday.

Minnich’s sister, Tara Way, has a 14-year-old daughter who attends the school. She also requested that her daughter’s name not be used in the report. She spoke with the principal at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday and said the principal explained there were incidents that morning but it was under control. After hearing from several friends that this was not the case, she decided to pick up her daughter.

Upon arriving at the school, Way claims that the woman at the front desk told her that all incidents were “rumors” and that she had nothing to worry about. When Way said that she spoke with the principal that morning and had heard differently, the woman agreed to get her daughter from class.

“The part that concerned me the most was when I walked in the door and said I was here to pick up my daughter, the lady asked if she had an appointment,” Way explained. “The lady at the front desk looked me in the face and said, ‘Ma’am, all of these incidents were just rumors, nothing happened here today.’”

Southeastern School District Superintendent Rona Kaufmann, who serves as superintendent of record for York County School of Technology, said she spoke with the school’s director, and he told her there weren’t  any incidents Thursday. She said she was apprised of an incident Wednesday.

York City Mayor Kim Bracey and York City School Superintendent Eric Holmes were at the technology school Thursday in response to the complaints. Holmes said approximately 450 York City students attend the technical school.

“We are working with the administration at the School of Technology, and anything that we can do to assist them, we will do,” Holmes said. “We are supporting them in their efforts, and we hope with time and with a great deal of discussion amongst the students about what’s happening in our world today that we can put this behind us and move forward.”

Holmes explained that it is the city school district’s responsibility to look after their students at Vo-Tech, and their primary goal is the students’ safety.

Bracey posted a statement on the City of York’s Facebook page stating that the situation that occurred Wednesday morning was an isolated incident. “This morning, I met with Dr. David Thomas, Director of York County School of Technology, and I assure you that our city students and all students of that school are safe,” she wrote.

York Area Regional Police Chief Tim Damon told The York Dispatch that his department is involved. The department also posted a statement on the matter on its Facebook page, stating that posts made to social media about the incident were exaggerated.

“These posts include but are not limited to students being spat on and that someone was bringing a gun to school,” the statement reads. “None of this was reported to police by first party, and none of the posts have been substantiated. Most of the posts were from people that do not attend the school or have anything to do with the school.”

However, students who spoke with The York Dispatch have said that threats of shootings and murders were made to them in the halls and in classes.

Meeting sought: Thompson said she has seen the video Talianna shot and reached out to four or five school officials to arrange a meeting, but had yet to hear back as of 1:45 p.m. Thursday. Thompson said she feels school administrators should have addressed the issue more quickly.

The York NAACP has received reports of racial harassment throughout the community since the election results were announced, Thompson said, and each complaint has referenced the election or Trump.

The group will hold a meeting at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 22 at Crispus Attucks to talk about the best ways to address this situation. Thompson said anyone who encounters racial or any other type of harassment should try to identify the perpetrator and report the incident to police.

The technology school serves students from 14 school districts in the county. It has a nondiscrimination policy posted on its website, stating it does not discriminate based on “race, color, national origin, sex, disability or age in its programs or activities.”

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