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NSAA considering measures to combat rise of racist slurs in Nebraska high school sports
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NSAA considering measures to combat rise of racist slurs in Nebraska high school sports

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Omaha Northwest High’s Nicole Rodriguez (from left), Kamille Hamilton, Cierra Marks and Janiya Ward are shown during the national anthem before their game against Bellevue East last month in Bellevue. On Feb. 11, boys in the crowd yelled a racial slur at the team after its game at Norfolk.

The national push for racial equality is propelling some school districts to change. One example is Muncie, Indiana, Community Schools. Officials there plan to appoint a director of diversity, require implicit bias training for school resource officers and review the current curriculum.  We leave it often to the teachers to be developing their curriculum to teach, so that's where we believe we can do a little bit better by working to create some lessons or to find books or materials that we would be able to to provide to help when they're teaching throughout the school year, said Lee Ann Kwiatkowski, director of public education and CEO of the Muncie Community Schools. In a district of 6,000 students, only about 10% of teachers are people of color. And it's not just Muncie.According to the most recent available data from the 2017-2018 school year, just 7% of the countrys public school educators were Black. Seventy-nine percent were White.  Revamping hiring practices is one of the nine items the Akron, Ohio, Public Schools are working on after the school board recently declared racism a public health crisis.  When you talk about hiring practices, you have to go all the way back to the posting," said N.J. Akbar, vice president of the board of education at the Akron Public Schools. "How's the job description written? Is there racism latent within that job description? Is there racism embedded, unintentionally, perhaps, in the way we screen our candidates before they even get out of that pool?"But change in education can take time, especially in a system that has struggled to correctly teach Black history. That is evident in the public statements many districts have been sharing, where the language used varies from the explicit to the divided.Once all of these statements have been written, once all of this work, this initial work, has been done, how is all of this going to be any different?" said Limarys Caraballo, deputy executive director of urban education at The Graduate Center, CUNY.  "And I think that that's where the bulk of the work really now needs to be focused.

High school athletes in Nebraska are encountering more racist comments during competition, and the Nebraska School Activities Association is searching for new ways to prevent the incidents.

Jay Bellar, executive director of the NSAA, said he wished he could say that such occurrences as a Norfolk fan yelling the N-word at Omaha Northwest basketball players don’t happen a lot.

But he said school officials have told him that it happens more than is reported to the state organization, he said.

Jay Bellar

Jay Bellar

“I think it may be more prevalent than we let on,” Bellar said.

Bellar said he commented recently to Omaha Northwest Principal Thomas Lee, an NSAA board member, that in three years as executive director, he’s dealt with the issue on three occasions.

“He (Lee) said, ‘Jay, we’ve dealt with it more than that, you just don’t hear about it,’” Bellar said. “So I think it is a problem in our schools. … I wish I could tell you that if we do this, this and this we’re going to stamp it out, but I sure don’t know that we are.”

Norfolk Public Schools on probation for racial slurs at game

Bellar said the organization is considering measures to try to deter such incidents, such as increased anti-bias education, penalties for schools where repeated instances occur and additional supervision of young fans.

The NSAA Board of Directors discussed the issue at its meeting Wednesday but no action was taken.

Lincoln parents demand action from NSAA over racially charged incident at basketball game

Several times in recent years, fans at sporting events have made racist remarks to Black or Latino athletes. It happened to Lincoln High girls in a basketball game in Fremont in 2020, prompting a petition drive from the ACLU of Nebraska and several advocacy groups. Parents, students and advocates appeared at an NSAA board meeting in 2017 to report racist taunts flung at Lexington high school and middle school students. Bellevue West star Chucky Hepburn was called the N-word by a Creighton Prep fan during a game this January, his father reported.

It has been a growing issue around the nation. Racist taunts from students led to a brawl at a high school basketball game in Oklahoma City this season, The Oklahoman reported. Last July in Iowa, school officials reported that people yelled racist slurs at Storm Lake Latino students and families during a softball game in Spirit Lake, and at a Black baseball player in a game against Waverly-Shell Rock High School, according to the Des Moines Register and the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Last month, a Florida high school soccer coach reported that a player on his team was called the N-word by an opposing player.

The latest incident in Nebraska occurred Feb. 11 in Norfolk. Young fans, possibly middle schoolers or junior high students, yelled a racial slur at Omaha Northwest players after a game at Norfolk High School.

East High investigating racially charged video circulating on social media

Unlike the Fremont or Creighton Prep incidents, Omaha Public Schools officials filed a formal complaint with the NSAA. After an investigation by the schools and the NSAA, Norfolk Public Schools was placed on probation for the remainder of the school year. Besides submitting a formal apology letter to Omaha Public Schools, the district has changed seating arrangements at activities, including requiring supervision of younger students, and is developing an equity and diversity plan that it will present to the NSAA board in August.

“Nobody wants this to happen,” Bellar said. “Norfolk didn’t want it to happen. Of course Northwest didn’t want it to happen. Fremont didn’t want it to happen last year. But unfortunately, somebody makes a very foolish comment and it’s there, and so we have to deal with it. … I think that education piece is going to be huge in where we decide to go from here.”

Bellar said Nebraska school officials in general “are very concerned about the topic … and they’re gonna do whatever they can to make sure that kids are treated the way they should be treated.”

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Northwest parents sent letters after the Norfolk game to the NSAA calling for action. One of the parents, Tahnee Markussen, invited NSAA officials and school leaders to participate in training led by the North Carolina-based Racial Equity Institute. The Omaha-based Lozier Foundation, where Markussen works as a program officer, will sponsor the training. Bellar and several school superintendents have signed up for the training so far.

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