No determination on how incident was handled by Jamestown staff
Jamestown Public Schools is investigating how the incident at a Jan. 31 basketball game was handled by school staff.
JAMESTOWN – The Jamestown Public School District has not made a determination of how the incident was handled by school staff when racial slurs and actions occurred during a basketball game on Jan. 31.
“We are still waiting for an opportunity to hear perspectives from all sides,” wrote Rob Lech, superintendent, in an email that was sent to school district parents. “I implore you to remember that assumptions and rumors are not facts.”
Jamestown Public School District officials are investigating the procedure of how the issue was handled when racial taunts and actions were made during a basketball game Jan. 31 between the Blue Jays and Bismarck High School. Racial slurs and actions were made to two basketball players from Bismarck High School during the game.
The North Dakota High School Activities Association approved Feb. 8 adding “any discriminatory slur will result in immediate removal from the facility” to its code of conduct.
The school district began investigating the incident the evening of Jan. 31. Lech said the investigation could take as long as 60 days to complete.
The investigation into the incident will answer three questions:
- What occurred during the Jan. 31 basketball game?
- How was the issue handled during the basketball game by school staff?
- How is the school district moving forward to ensure a safe and respectful environment?
By the time the investigation is complete, the school district will have between 50 to 65 interviews and statements, Lech said in the email sent to school district parents. He said there is a counterbalance between the necessity to be fair and the desire for a quick and efficient resolution.
“While it may be hard for those who feel a more immediate need for information, I ask that you allow us the time to do this the right way and not pass judgment based on the rumor mill,” he said.
What occurred during the game?
Lech previously said the school district found a small number of students engaged in varying levels of inappropriate conduct “from harassing and discriminatory language to offensive and culturally insensitive actions.” He said the students were disciplined but the names and disciplinary action cannot be shared, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
“Remember that those involved are minors who have accepted responsibility for their actions and need/want the chance to learn from their mistakes,” he said. “In all cases, however, I can share that consequences are commensurate to the offense and consistent with policy expectations.”
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 he has not heard of one individual who has not expressed remorse for any level of involvement during the game.
“Many general comments have been made that this does not represent our student viewpoint, the school viewpoint or what they see or hear in the community,” he said.
How was the issue handled by school staff?
Once the information gathering process is complete, the school district will issue a determination explaining whether any school staff violated school district policy or otherwise conducted themselves inappropriately, Lech said. He said the determination will be made using a "standard of the preponderance of evidence."
“In other words, we will determine whether it is more likely true than not true that the alleged policy violation or inappropriate conduct occurred based on the information available to us,” he said.
Lech said previously that no school district employees have resigned or been terminated as a result of the investigation. He said the school district’s policy on nondiscrimination and anti-harassment, the Jamestown High School handbook and code of conduct outline expectations related to discrimination and harassment.
“The operating expectation is that school staff who are responsible for supervision uphold all policies,” he said. “If it is determined that policy was not reasonably enforced, or if action was negligent, accountability can be expected.”
The school district’s policy on nondiscrimination and anti-harassment can be found at https://bit.ly/3IwEVK9 .
How is the school district moving forward?
In the short term, Lech said minor changes have been made to activity management. The school district has also updated the code of conduct language that reinforces expectations for sportsmanship and potential consequences. He also said there will be greater presence by the school resource office and administrators and strategic placement for supervision at events.
The new sportsmanship code of conduct says the school district “expects good sportsmanship at all levels and in all interactions.” It also says attendance at an event is a “privilege” and any instance of poor sportsmanship or behavior may result in removal from the current event and possible future events.
For strategic placement for supervision, Lech said the school district will be more purposeful in placing administrators to supervise areas of need. He said the school resource officer is present at most events, but the school district is requesting more support.
Lech said improving the school district’s environment includes the desire to engage with the Bismarck High School team to conduct “restorative practices.”
Restorative practices – sometimes known as accountability conferencing – are a mediated conference between harmed individuals and those who are responsible for the harm, said Adam Gehlhar, Jamestown High School principal, in an email to The Jamestown Sun. He said it’s a structured process that all parties must agree upon and participate in pre-meetings about the structure and process, and it’s becoming more common in schools and the juvenile justice system.
“The goal is to provide an opportunity for the victims to hear and heal and the offenders to take responsibility, understand the bigger picture and to reflect on what they were thinking at the time and what they have thought about since,” he said. “We have, through communications to BPS administration and coaching staff, offered to facilitate this with the impacted students and our students if and when they are agreeable to this.”
Gehlhar said there are still consequences for those who harm others.
“We have found that mediated accountability conferences allow those harmed to heal and those who are responsible for the harm to repair and learn and grow more from the experience,” he said.
Once the investigation is complete, the school district intends to fully engage its student leaders, which will primarily take place as part of a two-day leadership summit that will be facilitated by Gehlhar, Lech said. He said the summit will examine student perceptions and an assessment of the school environment. He said strategies will be co-designed to improve cultural competence and overall expectations on student behavior.
He said a number of school districts have reached out with similar concerns and a regional task force has been created to look into the issues. The task force includes school leaders from some area districts and will be facilitated by experts in the Fargo-Moorhead area, including Tamara Uselman, director of equity, diversity and inclusion at Fargo Public Schools.
“The intent of this working group would be to create an action plan specific to each district on improving cultural competence,” he said. “This could include recommendations on policy and protocol changes, professional learning, supports for students, etc.”
Lech said the action plan will address areas of need ranging from cultural competence to behavioral expectations at activities.