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More diversity training urged at Santa Monica High after incident

July 1, 2011 |  1:40 pm

School district officials say an alleged hate crime targeting a black student at Santa Monica High School remained under investigation and recommended that the Santa Monica-Malibu School District Board of Education redouble its efforts in diversity training.

The school district also should "ensure that all necessary and appropriate support is provided to the student(s) who were adversely affected by the May incident, and their families, during the summer and upcoming school year," the agenda for Thursday night's school board meeting stated.

Outgoing Supt. Tim Cuneo recommended the board increase its diversity training efforts in its professional development programs for administrators and staff and reevaluate the curriculum in regard to race and ethnicity.

According to the student's account given to authorities, he walked into the wrestling room at the school on May 4 and saw a brown wrestling mannequin with a noose around its neck.

He said he was then restrained by two boys who chained his pants to a locker. Classmates also made racially charged remarks, the student said.

Some community activists decried the incident, calling for hate-crime charges to be filed. But others said the incident has been blown out of proportion.

Some said the incident was a prank and that there was no racism behind it.

Robert Forster, a volunteer coach at the high school, said at the meeting that he believes that "nothing racially" was said during the incident, according to KTLA.

"It is not hazing. It's a prank.... It was a funny thing that the athletes think are funny in the locker room," he said.

There are now two ongoing investigations of the incident. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department will examine how Santa Monica school officials responded to it.

The Santa Monica Police Department will continue its investigation of the alleged incident itself, which officials say involved the African American student and other members of the school's wrestling team.

Police said they turned over the portion of the probe dealing with the school's response to the Sheriff's Department to avoid a conflict of interest.

The Santa Monica Police Department has developed a close working relationship with school officials, they said.

Santa Monica High Principal Hugo A. Pedroza said in an email to parents earlier this month that the accused students were given appropriate discipline, including suspensions.

The boy's mother, Veronica Gray, said she was angry that the school never told her about the alleged incident.

In an action at Thursday's meeting unrelated to the May incident, the board named Laurel Fretz as the new principal of Santa Monica High School, replacing Pedroza, and Friday marked the first day for new Supt. Sandra Lyon.

Cuneo is retiring, and Pedroza is headed to Lompoc Unified School District, in Santa Barbara County, as an assistant superintendent, according to the district.


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-- Rick Rojas

Photo: Students arrive Thursday for a summer school session at Santa Monica High School. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times