Amphi officials respond to racism complaints

2013-10-30T00:00:00Z 2013-11-26T23:22:08Z Amphi officials respond to racism complaintsBy Jamar Younger Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The Amphitheater Public Schools district is investigating accusations of racial harassment at Ironwood Ridge High School after parent complaints prompted the school’s principal to call an emergency staff meeting and student assemblies.

Parents voiced their concerns during a meeting last week with Ironwood Ridge Principal Michael Szolowicz, describing incidents to him that recently occurred at the school.

Some of the complaints included derogatory language toward black students, food thrown at minority students and harassment of a couple of black football players.

Some of the parents also were concerned about disparaging remarks some Ironwood Ridge students made on Twitter about the accusations of racism and the school administration’s response.

The parents, many of whom felt school officials hadn’t addressed the incidents sufficiently, demanded the school take action to stop what they consider racist behavior.

“There have been several incidents that we, as parents, felt were handled inappropriately,” said LaShawn Jones, a parent of an 11th-grader at the school.

Amphitheater officials said some students have been disciplined but would not give further details.

The district also would not comment on any incidents involving Ironwood Ridge’s football players, although Szolowicz said in an email that he gave a speech to the football team.

“Our equal-opportunity officer is taking a comprehensive approach to the investigation. We are continuing to interview students,” according to a district statement. “Any students found to have been involved in harassment or making derogatory remarks or threats have been, or will be, disciplined.”

Szolowicz reacted to the complaints by calling a faculty meeting on Friday, followed by a series of school assemblies on Tuesday to address the issue.

During the assemblies, the principal talked about specific words and behavior that are disrespectful and will not be tolerated while encouraging students to talk about positive language and actions, according to the district statement.

In an email response to parents, Szolowicz said he and his administrative team would review expectations regarding “preponderance of evidence” in making discipline decisions.

“Please be aware that we do have due process and procedural responsibilities for making appropriate discipline decisions that do require investigation and questioning of witnesses and reporting parties,” according to the email.

Szolowicz also said in the email that he spoke with the district office, and next year’s student code of conduct will be amended.

In addition, the school’s Black Student Union is starting to brainstorm activities for Black History Month, he said.

“I hope that these measures will result in immediate improvement. I also expect that more work remains to be done,” he said in the email.

Jones said she was encouraged by the principal’s response, but hopes the school continues its efforts.

“It shows he heard what parents were saying. Does it fix the problem? No,” she said.

Jones’ daughter hasn’t been targeted with any harassment, but she’s witnessed some of the behavior toward her friends, her mother said.

Jones, who attended last week’s meeting, said she wants to be assured of her daughter’s safety.

“I’m still a concerned parent. I still want to know she’s safe,” she said.

Contact reporter Jamar Younger at jyounger@azstarnet.com or 573-4242. On Twitter: @JamarYounger

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