Jamestown Public School District investigating how officials handled racial taunting incident
An investigation found that students used racial slurs and actions toward minority basketball players from Bismarck High School.
JAMESTOWN – Jamestown Public School District officials are investigating the procedures of how the issue was handled when racial taunts were being made during a basketball game Jan. 31 between the Blue Jays and Bismarck High School, according to Superintendent Rob Lech.
Lech said Monday, Feb. 6, in his superintendent’s report to the Jamestown Public School Board that the school district is investigating what occurred during the game.
“How did we handle the issue during the game and after the game,” he said.
He said the whole incident made him “angry, sad and disappointed.”
“Harassing language, discriminatory language, they have no place in Jamestown Public Schools,” he said. “That is contrary to the values that underpin our district. They are contrary to the values that underpin our community. These are actions that we need to talk about and deal with appropriately.”
Lech said there are two parts of the investigation: determining what students had a role in what happened and disciplining them and how the issue was handled during and after the game.
Racial slurs and actions were made to two basketball players from Bismarck High School during a game Jan. 31 in Jamestown.
Through an investigation last week, the school district found that disparaging and/or racially insensitive remarks and actions were made by a handful of Jamestown Middle School and Jamestown High School students. Lech said the students were disciplined in accordance with the school district's anti-harassment and discrimination policy.
He said the names of the students and disciplinary action cannot be shared, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is a federal law that affords parents the right to have access to their children’s education records, the right to seek to have the records amended, and the right to have some control over the disclosure of personally identifiable information from the education records, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Lech said the school district investigated the incident the evening of Jan. 31. Lech, who was not at the game on Jan. 31, said a conversation was held with Jamestown High School Principal Adam Gehlhar and Jim Roaldson, activities director, who were both supervisors at the game.
He said the school district then reached out to Bismarck head basketball coach Jordan Wilhelm that same evening after the game to see what occurred from his perspective and to check how the boys were doing.
Lech said the school district engaged in “dozens and dozens and dozens” of interviews with students, employees and others who were at the game and found that discriminatory remarks were made.
“That elicits consequences,” he said. “Those consequences are followed in policy. Those are what were enacted.”
Lech said the next part of the investigation, which is ongoing, is seeing how the issue was handled during and after the game.
He said the school district reached out to Bismarck High School and to determine if restorative practices would be desired by the Bismarck basketball team.
“We felt it was important enough to offer so they can process the situation and for us to facilitate and be a part of facilitating healing,” he said.
Lech said Gehlhar engaged with student leaders in the Jamestown Public School District to see what types of activities students would be interested in and respond positively to improve "cultural competence."
“That is also something we are interested in doing to facilitate greater awareness,” he said.
Lech said he had a conversation with Sashay Schettler, director of the office of Indian education for Bismarck Public Schools. Schettler told Lech that Bismarck Public Schools has some resources that it is willing to share with Jamestown Public Schools.
He also said he spoke with Tamara Uselman, director of equity and inclusion at Fargo Public Schools, who can be used as a resource to help Jamestown Public Schools understand what procedures it can take to help move forward.
School board member Gayle Nelson said the school district needs to help kids understand the bigger picture and diversity inclusion and equity are a part of the conversation. She said racism should still be discussed even though it is an uncomfortable topic.
School Board member Aaron Roberts said the board has responsibility to reflect on what happened and see what it can do better from a policy standpoint.
School board member Diane Nelson said this is an opportunity to show the community that racism does exist. She said she is told that racism doesn’t exist in the community.
“It’s an opportunity to educate,” she said