JPS investigation finds administrator did not act on issue
The investigation concluded into what occurred during Jan. 31 basketball game.
JAMESTOWN – An investigation into the incident of a Jan. 31 basketball game was determined that an administrator supervising the event did not act on a particular issue because the official thought it was not racially motivated and there was a general failure to adequately supervise fan conduct during the game.
In an emailed statement sent Friday, March 17, Superintendent Rob Lech wrote that the investigation has concluded into what occurred during a basketball game between Jamestown and Bismarck high schools. Lech told The Sun he was the main investigator in the investigation.
The Jamestown Public School District officials investigated concerns that Jamestown administration or staff failed to take appropriate action during the game when racial taunts and actions were made to two minority basketball players from Bismarck High School. The school district began investigating the incident on the evening of Jan. 31.
Lech said in an email to The Sun that he reached out to Bismarck Public Schools Superintendent Jason Hornbacher and to Bismarck High School head basketball coach Jordan Wilhelm to make them aware that the Jamestown Public School District administrators would immediately initiate an investigation. Lech was not at that game.
He said the school district received a formal complaint on Feb. 2 about concerns regarding the conduct of Jamestown student fans, specifically the use of racially motivated language and actions directed at the Bismarck players and the actions and/or inactions of school administration at the game regarding the conduct of the fans.
It was substantiated that what was specifically occurring in the student section outside of the general noise-making and court crowding was not heard or known to any coach of Jamestown or Bismarck high schools, any game official, a Jamestown administrator present as a fan or a Jamestown teacher seated at the scorer’s table, Lech wrote in the emailed statement.
“It is substantiated that Jamestown administrator supervising the game was similarly not aware, with the exception that this administrator did know about one particular issue in the second half of the game and did not act on it because of his perception that it was not racially motivated,” he wrote. ”In reflection, this administrator expressed regret that he had not worked to get greater clarity on the parent’s concern during the game.”
The inactions were deemed unacceptable and a disciplinary consequence will be issued, Lech wrote. The administrator was not identified.
“Very typically those things find their way into formal letters of reprimand expressing expectations, clarifying expectations and what would occur,” Lech told The Sun. “That hasn’t been completed. … We will be issuing that too.”
The investigation found that a small number of Jamestown student fans engaged in varying levels of inappropriate conduct that were offensive, discriminatory and racially or culturally insensitive.
The investigation substantiated that one Jamestown student fan who is Black made a comment directed at or about Bismarck basketball player Andre Austin loud enough for individuals on and off the court to hear. Lech wrote that the student used a derogatory term used toward Black people.
The investigation substantiated that four Jamestown student fans made monkey noises throughout the game — some when Austin was on the court and some when he wasn’t — and it occurred multiple times while Austin was at the free-throw line.
One Jamestown student fan made a derogatory comment toward Bismarck basketball player Teysean Eaglestaff, a Native American, and five students participated in chanting that is consistent with war hooping that was described by concerned people at the game.
“This was not substantiated to have occurred when a Native American BHS athlete was on the court,” he wrote.
Lech wrote that some student fans said they did not understand their conduct to be racially insensitive but thought of it as just “noise making.” Students expressed regret during their interviews and/or reflections, he wrote.
“Nevertheless, there is no excuse and the conduct was deemed completely unacceptable, to have had great negative impact on BHS student-athletes and fans, and to be worthy of disciplinary consequences,” he wrote.
He wrote that the students were disciplined but the names 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.
Steps to address issues
Lech wrote that the school district has taken and will continue to take several other steps to address larger issues at hand.
“Accountability means more than just consequences, and we are committed to improving our environment at Jamestown Public Schools,” he wrote.
Lech told The Sun that the school district is being held accountable for what happened on Jan. 31. He said accountability and taking ownership of what happened mean the school district needs to take steps to learn and grow from the incident.
“We very much want to be accountable and hold ourselves accountable for being able to address the situation from an investigatory standpoint but also to try and avoid a similar situation in the future,” he said.
Additional actions taken include:
- All high school students receiving a review of schoolwide expectations, spectator expectations and re-education on the district's nondiscrimination and anti-harassment policy on Feb. 1.
- After Jan. 31, the district ensured better administrative coverage directly by the student section as well as increased attendance by the school resource officer.
- The district revised the sportsmanship statement, which is read before every contest, to clarify expectations for all fans and reinforce that a failure to meet the expectations may result in removal from the activity and possibly future events.
- The JHS teacher leadership team is planning implementation of specific sportsmanship training and facilitating future family engagement nights to improve school culture and establish schoolwide expectations.
- The district has made offers to Bismarck High School to engage in restorative practices to facilitate healing. All students from Jamestown Public Schools involved in the incident have agreed to participate in restorative practices with the student-athletes harmed by the discriminatory language and practices if it is desired.
- School district administration began engaging in a regional task force with other school districts to better examine equity, diversity and inclusion more systematically and to create an action plan for improvement.
- Jamestown High School completed a two-day summit on Wednesday and Thursday, March 15-16, with 50 student-leaders to assess the school environment and co-design strategies to improve cultural competence, equity and overall school culture and student behavioral expectations.