Michael Adams is trying to navigate the school district’s procedure for addressing complaints about racism after his son was the subject of some racist Snapchat messages sent by Granite Falls High School students in May. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Michael Adams is trying to navigate the school district’s procedure for addressing complaints about racism after his son was the subject of some racist Snapchat messages sent by Granite Falls High School students in May. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

After threat to ‘lynch’ Granite Falls boy, father says school fell short

Michael Adams helped craft the district’s diversity policy. Then his son became a target of racism. He now wants more changes.

GRANITE FALLS — In late May, two students at Granite Falls High School made racially charged comments about the only Black student on the boy’s track team.

“That black boy better get his (expletive) together,” one student wrote, in a Snapchat group message with at least five people.

“If he doesn’t run a 55 next week we hang him by his underwear on the flag pole,” another replied, referring to the upcoming state track meet.

The first student replied: “Lynch him.”

The comments were directed at the son of local anti-racism advocate Michael Adams, 34. He helped create the district’s policy for diversity, equity and inclusion. It seems like that was only for show, he said.

Months later, Adams says he still feels frustrated by the school’s response. He said his experience demonstrates the Granite Falls School District’s poor procedure when addressing racist incidents.

“It’s hard for me on a personal level, as a parent, to do the work that we’ve done, for this to happen,” said Adams, who also started Change the Narrative Granite Falls, a nonprofit that promotes race, equity, inclusion and justice. “If the school district feels like it handled this appropriately, I have concerns about what it would be like for someone who was not my son.”

Adams’ son, 16, asked not to be named in the article because he wants to move on, his father said.

Melanie Freeman, the school district spokesperson, said she is not aware of any complaints made about how this particular incident was handled after the school’s investigation. The district followed its process for responding to harassment, bullying and intimidation — including cases that involve race.

Superintendent Josh Middleton said the district regularly communicates with parents about the expectations for students. And he has made several open statements denouncing racism, including one letter he sent to parents around the time of this incident.

“The district concluded this matter in June,” Middleton said in an email interview, “but continues to work to create a safe environment for all students and staff.”

‘A letter doesn’t suffice’

School administrators were notified of the incident through the district’s anonymous reporting system, See Something Say Something. Adams said he learned about the messages from his son on May 24.

The next day, Adams was called into the school to meet with the vice principal and a Snohomish County sheriff’s deputy.

In an interview with The Herald, the superintendent declined to speak in detail about what discipline the students faced, as is the standard practice for school districts to abide by student privacy laws.

“The high school was able to investigate the incident and consequences were administered,” Middleton said. “Because we felt like it could potentially be a hate crime, we contacted law enforcement to investigate.”

A victim must have “reasonable fear of harm” for an act to be considered a hate crime in Washington. Without a specific threat, words alone usually do not qualify.

The Snapchat comments came about two months after President Joe Biden signed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act that formally added lynching to the list of federal hate crimes after more than a century of legislative attempts to do so. Under the act, someone can be prosecuted for lynching — punishable by up to 30 years in prison — if they conspire to commit a hate crime that results in death, serious bodily injury or serious harm.

On May 27, Adams’ son received a handwritten apology letter from the student who suggested lynching. In the letter, the student wrote that he believed his words would be “viewed in a comical way” and that he understands now how a message could be misinterpreted. The student also claimed he “felt I needed to mentor” Adams’ son “to be ready and capable to succeed in the sports he plays.”

Adams called the school to notify administrators of the apology letter and air his concerns about it. He also sent a copy of the letter to the vice principal by email. He said he never received a reply.

“I felt like in a situation like this, if you’re going to use language of lynching someone, a letter doesn’t suffice,” Adams said. “There should have been a face-to-face conversation, and the school should have been a part of mediating the conversation.”

Middleton said the school district “did not require any apology letter, nor did any apology letter have a tie to the investigation process.”

In cases such as this, sheriff’s deputies perform their own investigation, separate from the school’s process.

After a few weeks passed with no updates from the school or sheriff’s deputies, Adams requested the deputy’s investigation documents and an initial case report. It indicated there had been no real investigation.

‘An opportunity to grow’

People enter and exit Granite Falls High School after school gets out on Sept. 9, in Granite Falls. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

People enter and exit Granite Falls High School after school gets out on Sept. 9, in Granite Falls. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

In the report filed on May 25, deputy Jason Sandt wrote that he did not talk to anyone other than Adams and the vice principal. The students who made the remarks were not charged with any crime.

“With the above request and staff already talking with students and parents, I completed an informational report,” Standt wrote.

The deputy had signed off on his own report as an “approving supervisor.” Adams said he learned later that the supervising deputy was out of the office that day, so the report never went up the formal chain of command.

Adams said the deputy “deferred to the school district.” But the school never followed up, he said.

Middleton said the district was “in contact with all families” involved in the incident. School officials also met directly with each student following the complaint.

Adams said he hasn’t contacted the school district directly about the incident since June, because, “I believe it’s their responsibility to make contact with me.” He added that he wants to “see what the experience is for other families who don’t know how to navigate this at all.”

“I really wanted to hold off on an activism mindset and advocacy, and try to just sit and be a community member. … Would my family’s resolution fall in line with things just getting brushed over?” Adams said. “I hope that it wouldn’t, but that’s what happened.”

With the help of the local advocacy group Artists in Activism, the father reached out to the sheriff’s office again in late July. Deputies told him that they would reopen the investigation, because the original report had not been reviewed through the proper chain of command. On Aug. 8, deputies, school officials and Artists in Activism met to debrief. Adams said the school district did not invite him to that meeting. He attended at the request of the advocacy group.

“That’s where Sheriff (Adam) Fortney committed to conducting the investigation, as the original responding officer didn’t,” Adams said. “It’s where the school board and superintendent committed to looking at policy and procedure to see where they can ensure the timely response and communication is had with law enforcement and families.”

On Sept. 6, an investigator told Adams that the followup investigation was finished, and no criminal charges would be filed. The detective said one of the students wanted to apologize to his son, and the school district would organize the meeting, Adams added.

Adams had not heard from his son’s school as of Friday.

From the start, he would have liked for the district to “mediate a face-to-face meeting” between the students and his son. At the very least, Adams had hoped the school district would follow up with him and his son to check in on how they were feeling.

“Feelings can change … especially in the school environment, once it gets out to peers,” Adams said.

Middleton said all students had individual followup meetings with administration. He said he views this incident as “an opportunity to grow” and improve policies.

“Any time an incident occurs we want to debrief and reflect,” Middleton wrote in an email. “Our policies and procedures are routinely reviewed at the local and state level, and when updates are made, they are sent to us by (the state school directors association). And we continue to advocate for students/staff to utilize our See Something, Say Something app when there are concerns.”

Mallory Gruben is a Report for America corps member who writes about education for The Daily Herald.

Mallory Gruben: 425-339-3035; mallory.gruben@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @MalloryGruben

Talk to us

More in Local News

Crews will reduce lanes and eventually close northbound Interstate 5 between Everett and Marysville this week to work on a bridge overpass girder. (Washington State Department of Transportation)
Overnight lane closures, I-5 detour set between Everett, Marysville

Crews need to replace a girder on the 12th Street NE bridge that was damaged by an overheight load in September 2021.

Mike Rosen
Businessman Mike Rosen announces campaign for mayor of Edmonds

Rosen, a city planning board member, is backed by five former Edmonds mayors. It’s unclear if incumbent Mike Nelson will run again.

FILE - A Boeing 747-8, Boeing's new passenger plane, takes its first flight, Sunday, March 20, 2011, at Paine Field in Everett, Wash. After more than half a century, Boeing is rolling its last 747 out of a Washington state factory on Tuesday night. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Boeing’s last 747 to roll off the Everett assembly line

The Queen of the Skies was dethroned by smaller, more fuel-efficient jets. The last 747s were built for a cargo carrier.

PUD workers install new transformers along 132nd Street on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022 in Mill Creek, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Electric vehicles spur big forecast jump for PUD demand

Not long ago, the Snohomish County PUD projected 50,000 electric cars registered in the county by 2040. Now it expects up to 660,000.

Traffic moves northbound on I-5 through Everett on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Grinding work still needed for I-5 through Everett

Construction crews need warmer temps for the work to remove what a reader described as “mini raised speed bumps.”

After a day of learning to fight fires, Snohomish firefighter recruit Chau Nguyen flakes a hose as other recruits load the hoses onto a fire truck April 19, 2018, at the training facility on S. Machias Rd. in Snohomish. (Andy Bronson / Herald file)
Lawsuit: Everett firefighter sexually harassed numerous recruits

Chau Nguyen resigned earlier this year, long after the first complaint about his behavior at the county’s fire training academy.

People work on the roof of the Stilly Valley Senior Center on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022 in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Seniors evacuated from Stilly Valley Center housing due to roof damage

Residents said water damage issues began years ago. Mid-winter repairs forced them into hotels.

FILE - In this photo taken Oct. 2, 2018, semi-automatic rifles fill a wall at a gun shop in Lynnwood, Wash. Gov. Jay Inslee is joining state Attorney General Bob Ferguson to propose limits to magazine capacity and a ban on the sale of assault weapons. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Trade in an unloaded gun for a loaded gift card in Mukilteo, Everett

Mukiteo’s Gun Buyback is Saturday. Everett has $25,000 to give out at its exchange Dec. 17.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Darrington in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Sauk-Suiattle Tribe alleges state unfairly charges online sales tax

Tribal members on the reservation are charged state taxes despite a federal exemption. The tribe says it’s a sovereignty issue.

Most Read