STANWOOD — An independent investigation ordered by the Clover Park School District concluded it was “more likely than not” that racist language was used during a football game between Stanwood and Lakes High Schools — a different conclusion than the one reached by a separate investigator.
The summary findings, released Monday, found the N-word was likely used in three separate incidents at the game on Nov. 4: in the girls’ bathroom before the game, in the Stanwood stands before the game and on the field during the game.
That differs from an earlier investigation from the Stanwood-Camano School District, which determined the N-word was likely used in the bathroom but not in the stands or on the field.
It was unlikely any slurs were used on the field of play, according to the Stanwood report. However, at least one student in the Stanwood stands likely used a “racially offensive” term to describe players on the Lakes team.
Stanwood released its summary findings on Dec. 9 and an investigation report on Dec. 12.
Jeffery Wells, the attorney who conducted the Clover Park investigation, noted in his report that he received a copy of the Stanwood report but its conclusions “do not impact or alter my findings.”
In his investigation, Wells interviewed 10 witnesses who all had ties to Lakes High School and reviewed 27 witness statements, as well as news coverage of the game. The interviewees included the Lakes coaches, Lakes players and Lakes athletic director.
Coaches and players told Wells they heard the N-word and other racially offensive language used by Stanwood fans during warm-ups. The players said coaches told them to “ignore it and that Lakes would ‘play the right way,’” according to the report.
The coaches also said that, during the game, their players told them multiple times that players from the Stanwood team were calling them the N-word. The coaches told Wells that they tried to tell officials at least three times to “listen for inappropriate language” or “listen for racial slurs.”
Wells did not interview the referees. His report does not indicate that the officials submitted written statements.
However, in interviews with a Stanwood investigator and The Daily Herald, head official Steven Jensen said no players or coaches reported the use slurs to referees during the game. The first time his officiating crew heard about it was after the game in the newspaper and on social media, Jensen said.
He added that there is a procedure for responding to racist comments made on the field during a game.
“It’s really simple. They (coaches or players) come to us, and then we bring both coaches and admins together to tell them what was reported to us,” Jensen said. “But we couldn’t do that that night, because it never was reported to us.”
A footnote in Wells’ report notes that David Miller, head coach for Lakes, said he does not think the refs are lying.
“… They may not have heard Coach Miller make the report,” the footnote says. The Lakes athletic director “questioned whether the message was communicated to the officiating crew in a manner that actually brought it to their attention.”
Miller added that if he could redo the situation, he would have “called a timeout to get attention focused on the issue,” according to the report.
The Stanwood investigation, conducted by Snohomish-based attorney Noel Treat, reviewed claims about racist language used in the stands and on the field. District staff handled a second investigation for the incident in the bathroom.
According to Treat’s report, the Lakes coaches said they heard the N-word and the term “boy” shouted from the stands ahead of the game. The coaches also reported hearing slurs from Stanwood players during the game, and they told Treat they reported the slurs to the game’s referees.
The refs all reported that they did not hear slurs, nor did they receive any complaints from coaches or athletic directors about racist language being used on the field, according to the investigation. Treat also wrote that the chain crew, the athletic directors from both districts and six Stanwood players all reported in interviews that they did not hear any slurs used on the field.
“It is possible such offensive comments could be made in a manner where it would only be heard by the player it was directed to,” Treat wrote in the report. “However, in light of the discrepancies in Stanwood and Lakes player reports and that the referees on the field did not hear any racial slurs or have any players complain to them, there is not sufficient evidence to find that the ‘N word’ or racial slurs were used by players during the game.”
Stanwood school staff, five Stanwood parents and both district’s athletic directors also did not report hearing the N-word used in the stands.
“A few students did hear one student (in the stands) used the term ‘monkeys,’” Treat wrote. “Student recollection of how the term was used varied but it was used as ‘Go home monkeys’ or something similar. The term ‘monkey’ is a racial derogatory word when used in this manner.”
According to a statement by the district, that student will receive “appropriate follow-up” from the school principal.
“Any form of discrimination, hate, or racism in our schools is unacceptable,” Stanwood Superintendent Deborah Rumbaugh said in a prepared statement Dec. 12. “We will not relent in our efforts to foster a community free of intolerance, racism, and inequity. And we will continue our important equity work outlined in greater detail in our Dec. 9 statement available on the district website.”
On Tuesday, Rumbaugh told The Herald her district had received a copy of the Clover Park report and would review it in depth over the district’s winter break. The district may make “additions to the work we are doing” to address the incident and strengthen equity policies and practices locally, she said.
Both school districts contracted third-party investigators to review claims that racial slurs were used during the game. The investigations happened separately, though some information was shared between investigators, according to statements by the districts and Treat’s investigation report. Treat sat in on some of Wells’ interviews, according to Wells’ report.
In a similar situation in 2021 at a girl’s basketball game, the Lakewood and Mukilteo school districts together contracted a third-party investigator to do one review.
In a statement Monday, officials with the Clover Park School District condemned the racist behavior their students experienced at the game.
“The first steps in stamping out hate include acknowledging it happened and stating the racial slurs that were used,” Clover Park officials wrote in a statement about the investigation. “We encourage Stanwood-Camano School District to move forward with their stated commitments and efforts to create an inclusive community. This unfortunate event serves as a reminder that all of us have an important role in creating an environment that is inclusive and respectful for all.”
Mallory Gruben is a Report for America corps member who writes about education for The Daily Herald.
Mallory Gruben: 425-339-3035; email@example.com; Twitter: @MalloryGruben.
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