Use of slurs ‘likely’ during Stanwood-Lakes game, investigation finds

In its findings, the Stanwood-Camano School District apologized to Lakes High School and reaffirmed a commitment to equity work.

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STANWOOD — The Stanwood-Camano School District and an independent investigator found evidence that at least two students likely used racially offensive language during a November football game between Stanwood and Lakes high schools, according to a summary of investigation findings released Friday.

The district hired Noel Treat, an attorney based in the Snohomish area, to help investigate claims that Stanwood students called a Lakes High School cheerleader the N-word while she was in the girls bathroom. Treat also explored allegations that Stanwood spectators and football players used racial slurs during the game.

The district released a summary of the investigation findings and a statement on the incidents on its website around 5:30 p.m. Friday. The statement says the investigation determined “one student likely used a racial slur in a bathroom, and another likely used offensive language in the stands.”

“I want to be clear: We do not tolerate discrimination, hate, or racism in our schools,” Superintendent Deborah Rumbaugh wrote in the statement. “Respectful and equitable treatment toward others has been and will continue to be paramount in our work with students and staff and is foundational to our promise and potential as a school district.”

School district staff investigated the claims about the bathroom, which were reported as a complaint with the district and the Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association. An “outside investigator” helped with some interviews of students, according the statement. It was not clear immediately if that investigator was Treat.

In total, the district interviewed eight people, including students, staff and parents from both school districts involved in the game.

“It was determined that hateful words were likely used in the bathroom before the November 4 football game,” Rumbaugh wrote. “While the investigation did not identify a specific person, the evidence suggests the incident occurred. As a result, we will refocus our ongoing efforts and actions intended to teach students that such behaviors are unacceptable and never tolerated. Should more information become available, all discipline measures applied will align with District policy.”

Treat handled the investigation of the claims about the spectators and football players. That exploration was spurred by a social media post following the game, according to the statement. The district did not receive a formal complaint relating to the allegations.

Treat reviewed statements and interviewed more than 50 people across both districts, including those present on and off the field. He did not find “sufficient evidence” that players used the N-word during the game. However, his findings suggest it is “more likely than not that a student used offensive language” in the stands.

“The student has been identified to the school principal for appropriate follow-up,” Rumbaugh wrote. “All discipline measures will align with District policy.”

On behalf of the district, Rumbaugh also apologized to “the Lakes High School students, staff, parents, and families impacted by these incidents.”

A spokesperson with the Clover Park School District, which encompasses Lakes High School, told The Herald that her district also contracted a third-party investigator to conduct a separate investigation. That investigation is ongoing.

“The investigators for Clover Park School District and Stanwood School District have shared information with each other as part of their separate investigations, which has included witness statements and individuals interviews,” said Clover Parks spokesperson Leanna Albrecht. “Ensuring our student athletes have a safe, supportive place to compete is a paramount priority for Clover Park School District.”

A spokesperson for Stanwood schools said the local district would “reexamine the findings with any new information” after Clover Park finishes its investigation.

Ahead of the findings release, Rumbaugh told The Herald the incident provided an opportunity to “put to work” the equity policies and procedures that the district developed in the past two years. That included starting a districtwide equity team with community partners like the Stanwood Alliance For Equity, or SAFE.

“This is work that we’ve done in the past and we will continue to do,” Rumbaugh said in a phone interview on Nov. 29. “This most recent incident for us creates urgency around bringing our equity team together to look at what the outcomes for the investigation are.”

On Friday, Rumbaugh wrote that the district “will continue to use our Educational Equity Policy to guide us as we strive toward an environment where all students are seen, known, nurtured, accepted, and valued.”

According to the statement, that includes:

• Reviewing the district’s educational equity policy and affirming other school board policies relating to racist, biased, discriminatory or threatening language or actions;

• Amplifying voices of frequently marginalized individuals;

• Participating in cultural competency and racial bias trainings for board members, staff and students;

• Partnering with the district equity team to develop a three-part “equity symposium” for all staff;

• Hosting listening sessions and other equity-focused events for students;

• Establishing a “Student-Superintendent Leadership Team” with high school students who can share experiences and feedback about how the district can best support its students.

The Equity Team will “continue to take the lead on how we provide learning opportunities for our youth and supports for adults,” Rumbaugh wrote. “The equity team will inform the development of age-appropriate learning activities on responding to everyday prejudice, bias, and stereotypes.”

In 2021, a similar incident occurred at a basketball game between Lakewood and Mariner high schools, when a Mariner player complained of racist comments from the Lakewood crowd.

The Lakewood and Mukilteo school districts together contracted an independent investigator that determined the Lakewood fans made racially offense comments to the Mariner team during a highly physical game that resulted in injuries for some Lakewood players.

Lakewood Superintendent Scott Peacock said the experience highlighted how the district “needed to be responsible for the culture and climate we create at our events.” His district made a “long-term commitment” to ensure that everyone in the schools feels a sense of belonging.

In Stanwood, Rumbaugh shared similar sentiments.

“We remain committed to seeking out inequitable policies and procedures contributing to systemic bias,” she wrote. “That work will improve our environment and amplify the voices of frequently marginalized individuals to ensure access to a safe, supportive learning and work environment.”

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.

This story has been updated to correct Noel Treat’s pronouns and the location of his practice.  

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