Two Oregon schools have been put on year-long probation after Oregon School Activities Association investigations. Investigators found Clatskanie High School’s girl basketball team “more likely than not” used racist language against members of the De La Salle team. Three of OSAA’s findings for the Molalla High School were redacted due to identifiable information of students, but Gladstone students claim they faced racism and intimidation during a basketball game against Molalla in January. Peter Weber, executive director of OSAA, joins us to share what an investigation looks like and what consequences schools may face when placed on probation.
The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.
Dave Miller: From the Gert Boyle Studio at OPB, this is Think Out Loud, I’m Dave Miller. Two Oregon schools were recently put on yearlong probations after investigations by the Oregon School Activities Association. The OSAA oversees interscholastic sports and other activities. Their Investigators looked into Clatskanie and Molalla High Schools following reports of racist incidents. They found that members of the girls basketball team from Clatskanie more likely than not used racist language against players from the De La Salle North Catholic team. And Molalla High School was put on probation after Gladstone students said they faced racism and intimidation during a boys’ basketball game, in January. Peter Weber, is the Executive Director of the OSAA, and he joins us with more. Peter Weber, welcome.
Peter Weber: Thanks Dave. I appreciate you having me on.
Miller: What can you tell us about what happened at the girls’ basketball game in December, between De La Salle North Catholic and Clatskanie High Schools?
Weber: At that girls’ basketball game there were allegations of racialized language being used on the court during the game, as you mentioned in your intro, and the idea that the game officials and the high school staff not addressing the situation immediately, the concerns that were communicated during the game, were all concerns that they came out of that investigation.
Miller: And what about the boys basketball game the following month between Molalla and Gladstone?
Weber: The situation with that contest; there was a couple of students from Gladstone, one had applied black paint to their entire face, neck and arms, and another had displayed the Confederate flag on their phone and again, there was a failure to immediately address, appropriately intervene, in that situation as well.
Miller: Let’s take a step back. How does the OSAA get involved in situations like this?
Weber: So oftentimes, Dave, what will happen is, we have a complaint form process through our website and our handbook, where people can file an online complaint. We may hear about an incident as well, even though a complaint may not have been filed. Our first step is to immediately communicate with the involved schools. We reach out to them. Typically in those situations involving athletic contests we’ll reach out first to the athletic directors of the schools to determine what knowledge they have of the events that took place or were alleged to have taken place, and working with the schools, getting the two schools communicating as well. And then really to begin to gather that information. Sometimes schools will have already begun an investigation of their own, with their teams or coaches or players and perhaps their fans depending on the situation. And so that’s really where that process starts. And there are occasions where the schools are able to communicate with each other, work through the situation, address the situation and move forward. So our involvement may be somewhat limited in those cases. And then there are other situations that have arisen where there’s a need for us to go out and work with it. What we do is hire a third party investigator who’s trained in those investigations, especially around schools and education, and working with that 3rd party investigator to speak with both schools, to work with both Administrations to figure out exactly as best they can, what took place, how we can address it and how we can move forward by taking some action.
Miller: How much authority do those investigators have to talk to students or staff or spectators?
Weber: In terms of authority, we can’t mandate that somebody speak to our investigators, thus far in the instances that we’ve worked with schools on, schools and the people involved in them have been very interested in speaking with our investigator, and working through that process to let them know their side of the story and what took place from their perspective. So, to this point it’s gone pretty well. But again, we don’t have any authority to say that somebody has to speak to us. We’re more working in conjunction with the schools, trying to support the schools in that situation and basically try and determine what actually took place.
Miller: How do you then determine the consequences?
Weber: That’s where it gets complicated to be honest. As we work through that, our focus at the OSAA, specifically in working with our Equity and Diversity Advisory Committee, our focus has been on education and training for schools. Certainly we are intent on providing a safe and welcoming environment for all those at interscholastic events and making sure that if an incident occurs, that those behaviors are interrupted immediately and that we’re preventing recurrences, that we can obviously try and support action and healing. So when we work with the findings and conclusions of the third party investigation, we then work with our OSAA Executive Board to determine what type of next steps need to take place, again with a focus on education and training, even in the two incidents that you mentioned before, with the probation, there’s education and training steps that go with that, whether that’s with a team, with event management staff, with administrators, with coaches, trying to, again, make sure that we’re focused on that education, preventing that recurrence and so that we can provide that environment that we’re all looking for in an interscholastic activity.
Miller: So we can understand, because you’re emphasizing the training, education, students and staff at these schools will have to take part in – racial equity and implicit bias training in particular, what does that mean? What are they actually going to be learning?
Weber: There’s actually some courses that we have available on our website. We have links to courses, the implicit bias courses, of course through the national federation of state high schools, that’s kind of our national group that we work with, again, all trying to promote that education, that understanding. Oftentimes Dave, we will have situations where we’re looking at intent versus impact and the idea that there are very few instances where people are intending to harm somebody else, but they may not understand, especially when we’re talking about students, they may not understand the impact of their words or actions, and that’s where that education and training, that really becomes critically important.
Miller: You noted this in passing, but it’s worth coming back to, because it’s one of the more damning aspects of the investigation into the Clatskanie game, which is that De La Salle North Catholic Coaching Staff brought up concerns about racist language during the game. And the investigation found that Clatskanie High School Staff and Referees from the Lower Columbia Officials’ Association didn’t address those. Here, we’re not talking about kids who, as you said, may not have been aware of the impact of their actions. We’re talking about adults in charge who were told about what was happening and apparently didn’t do anything. How do you explain that? And how do you look at the actions of young people compared to the actions of adults?
Weber: Well, that’s a factor that we look at in each unique situation, but part of our charge that we’re focusing on is making sure that we’re providing that information to officials’ associations to athletic directors and schools and coaches so that they understand the critical importance of when something is seen or heard or reported, that it’s addressed immediately and those behaviors are interrupted. So continuing to provide, again, that education to make sure that those people understand what needs to take place, for example, messaging that we’ve had out to officials as well as coaches and event management staff when something is is reported to them at a contest, for example, to stop the contest, to bring the caches together, to have the officials, the event management, the coaches understand, ‘this was reported to us. It’s not going to be allowed. There is no place for that in interscholastic activities and we need to address it.’ The coaches then are able to speak, for example, with their teams, their players, and make sure that the messages are passed on as well. Again, focused on interrupting those behaviors in the moment and preventing recurrence.
Miller: Does it get more complicated if, in for example, in the Molalla example, it was members of the audience who were using racist taunts or imagery against students, visiting students. Here, you’re not talking about, say players or staff, but just people in the audience. How do you deal with that at the OSAA?
Weber: Again, that’s where it’s important that our event management, the people from the schools that are there, whether it’s an athletic director, vice principal, what have you, that’s at the event overseeing that event understands the role that they need to play in terms of interrupting that behavior when it’s reported, when it’s seen or heard. Again, on the court, typically that would be officials, perhaps event management, depending on the situation, but up in the stands, that’s not going to be our contest officials, that’s going to be, again, the event management, the administration there, addressing that appropriately in the moment again, to prevent it from happening and happening again and most importantly, interrupting it immediately.
Miller: What kinds of more serious repercussions, more so than probation and training, for example, could follow future infractions during this probationary period?
Weber: When the school is on probation, Dave, basically the focus of that is, that if something were to occur while they’re on probation then the penalties that would be imposed potentially by our executive board, would be much more strenuous. They would be much harsher in that situation. We have in our handbook and policies, penalties that, you know, certainly include, as you mentioned, probation, there could be appearances before our executive board, required plans of action, even things such as forfeitures or fines, lack of institutional control all the way up to, you know, suspension of membership for the school or even expulsion from the association. So those things obviously would be, you know, for a situation that arose that warranted that. But those things are all listed out in our policies as things that could happen.
Miller: There were two separate allegations of Camas High School students in Washington saying racial slurs to visiting players this year as well. Do you have a sense that these incidents are becoming more common or that they’re being reported more often?
Weber: That’s a good question, David, you know, as we look at the complaint forms that we’ve received over the last couple of years, I’m not sure that the number has necessarily increased, but certainly I think the public attention in some cases has definitely increased. One of the things that we talk about as well is we’re not naive to think that these incidents have never taken place in the past, and may take place in the future and it’s up to us to do our best to prevent those things and certainly to address them when they occur. We are, I think, hearing more about them, which allows us again to try and address those from a statewide perspective, certainly from a community and school perspective, to make sure that we are providing that welcoming environment at events. So I think it can be a combination of maybe a few more that are taking place, but certainly the attention on them has grown as well.
Miller: Peter Weber, thanks for joining us today.
Weber: Thanks Dave.
Miller: Peter Weber is the Executive Director of the OSAA, the Oregon School Activities Association.
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