Ketchikan’s school district released on Friday key findings of its weeks-long investigation into allegations of racial insensitivity by some fans at a recent basketball game against a high school on the state’s only Native reservation.
Some Ketchikan student fans hurled “racist remarks and sounds” at players from Metlakatla during a Feb. 5 high school basketball game. That’s according to an investigation conducted by Ketchikan’s school district. Interim Superintendent Melissa Johnson released a statement summing up the results of the probe on Friday afternoon.
The unnamed Ketchikan students who the district says made the racist remarks and sounds violated the high school’s code of conduct, and the behavior has “been handled according to the District’s student disciplinary policy,” according to the district’s statement.
Johnson did not respond Friday afternoon to an interview request seeking additional details, but the district has in the past cited a federal law barring schools from disclosing student records.
The district’s statement makes no mention of any action against school district employees.
The school district launched its investigation after photos circulated of Ketchikan High School pep club members dressed in cowboy hats, boots, plaid shirts and other Western wear at a basketball game against Metlakatla High School. Eyewitnesses also reported that they heard stereotypical war cries and barking from the Ketchikan crowd.
The incident sparked an outcry in the community and around the state. Tribal leaders and community members from Ketchikan, Metlakatla and elsewhere said in interviews and statements that they took the students’ country dress as a “cowboys and Indians” theme. They said they felt it was an offensive reference to the trauma endured by Indigenous people.
Ketchikan High School’s pep club issued an apology after the incident. But pep club members have denied hearing racial slurs or war cries. Club members acknowledged barking at players during free throws — but they said that was a common technique they’d used to distract players from various schools throughout the season and was not an attack on the Metlaktala players’ race.
“Our pep club could be jerks, but we’re not racists,” sophomore pep club member Stevie Kamm said in a Feb. 10 interview with KRBD.
Though the three-page statement released by the school district acknowledges that there was “no intention by the school or pep club student leadership to be racially provocative or insensitive” with its country theme night, the school district says the effect of the theme was predictable and should have been prevented.
The district offered a lengthy apology along with the investigation’s findings.
“In reflecting on these events, KGBSD recognizes that we must apologize in a meaningful way and take full responsibility. We must acknowledge that, even if not intended, the actions of our students were hurtful to our guests from Metlakatla. We sincerely apologize to the Metlakatla students, coaches, parents, school district and community as a whole for creating an environment that did not honor you as our valued neighbors, friends, and family. We did not demonstrate the kind of hospitality and respect that we would want extended to our own students and community members, and for this we are deeply sorry,” begins a section of the statement labeled “Apologies.”
The school district also apologized to Native communities in Ketchikan and around the state.
“Whether or not there was intention to harm is immaterial; harm was caused nonetheless,” the statement reads.
The school district said it would immediately institute a new plan for selecting future pep club themes, implement a new sportsmanship agreement and consult the First Alaskans Institute for racial equity training. The district said it would also conduct a “racial equity audit” of district policies and develop a long-term racial equity strategic plan alongside key stakeholders.
“Racism, in all forms, is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. As painful as this incident and ensuing repercussions have been, it presents an opportunity to learn, heal, and grow as a community that supports the thriving of ALL students,” the statement says.
The superintendent of Metlakatla’s school district, Taw Lindsey, said in an email Friday afternoon that he was reviewing the investigation’s findings and is “pleased that the process is moving forward.”