LINCOLN — Racial taunts are continuing at Nebraska high schools and are trickling down to middle school events, according to a number of speakers who addressed the Nebraska School Activities Association board on Thursday.
Most of the six women and one man who spoke at the meeting have connections to Lexington, which has a heavily Latino student population.
They allege name-calling and other incidents at Lexington’s middle school volleyball match in North Platte and at a high school volleyball match in Minden.
Among the incidents occurring this season were a boy wearing a “Border Patrol” T-shirt and Lexington students being flipped off.
Lexington players were reportedly told to “go back where you came from,” and chants of “across the border” were reportedly heard during serves.
The speakers urged the NSAA board to create policies that treat the behavior as bullying, not only as unsportsmanlike conduct.
NSAA Executive Director Jim Tenopir said Thursday that he will call a meeting soon with other educational groups, including the Nebraska Department of Education and the state school boards association.
“In some regards, (the NSAA) has become the lightning rod for what happens in the state,’’ Tenopir said Thursday following the public comment segment of the board meeting. “We accept some of that responsibility, but there are other organizations that need to accept that responsibility as well.”
It’s not a new issue.
This past spring, Schuyler High School’s athletic director wrote a column in which he said his students have been called racist names, spat upon by opponents and told to “go back home” or “wait until Trump builds the wall.”
In 2010, a Lincoln East fan threw homemade green cards on the field after a state soccer final against Omaha South. In last year’s final, a few Creighton Prep fans were said to have yelled “Build that wall” at South fans.
In 1995, some Ralston High School students tossed tortillas onto the gym floor during a basketball game.
School officials at Minden and North Platte told the North Platte Telegraph that they apologized to Lexington administrators after the alleged incidents this school year.
“Both schools were hosting ‘Americana Night’ or some similar theme at the events in question,” Lexington Superintendent John Hakonson told the Telegraph. “Most students for those schools acted appropriately, often wearing red, white and blue colors to show American pride, but a few used the patriotic theme as an opportunity to insult our Hispanic students and parents.”
Hakonson said four schools have hosted patriotic theme nights this season in games against Lexington.
In the NSAA’s monthly newsletter for October, Tenopir addressed the issue.
“Racial discrimination, innuendo, name-calling and other hijinks in the name of school spirit need to cease and need to cease immediately,” he wrote. “It is not only the right thing to do, it is the legal thing to do.”
He noted that under federal law, racial discrimination in education is prohibited by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“It is necessary for school administrators and supervisors to rein in such inappropriate racial epithets and discriminatory actions,” he said.
North Platte Associate Superintendent Tami Eshleman told the Telegraph that the middle school administration apologized the night of the Lexington incident. She said the boy in the “Border Patrol” shirt changed immediately after the shirt was spotted during the pre-match warmup.
“The actions of one student should not be used to generalize an entire student body, school or district,” Eshleman said, adding that the district does not condone “such behavior.”
The boy’s mother told the Telegraph that the shirt fit the patriotic theme of the game, along with recognizing law enforcement and the military.
She said she felt that the T-shirt was misinterpreted and that the incident was blown out of proportion.
Hakonson said he frequently gets reports about students hearing racist remarks.
“It’s been happening for several years,” Hakonson said. “We have always taught our students to take the high road, but we also want to advocate for them when these things happen.”
Five Lexington graduates addressed the NSAA. They were Judith Gutierrez, Isabel Salas, Gladys Godinez, Moises Padilla and Rosangela Godinez, who also represented the ACLU. Ayanna Boykins of the Anti-Defamation League and Yolanda Nuncio of the Grand Island Latino Network, who had been an elementary school principal in Lexington, also spoke.
Corrections: This story has been updated to remove a quote that was incorrectly attributed and to correct the number of Lexington High School graduates who addressed the NSAA. An earlier version of this story incorrectly included a middle school involved in the alleged incidents.