Vancouver school officials are suspending 27 students and banning them from campus after a disruption that canceled a middle school basketball tournament Friday. Nine of those students have also been arrested.
District spokesperson Pat Nuzzo says most students were "emergency expelled" for yelling, shouting racial slurs, making threats or refusing to leave. Other allegations are more severe and include students who hit, pushed, or spit on law enforcement officers and district staff.
“School administrators are reviewing video of the incident and will respond with appropriate disciplinary actions,” Vancouver Public Schools Superintendent Steve Webb wrote in a statement. “The behavior displayed on Friday night will not be tolerated, and every student involved will be held accountable.”
According to the school district, the large disturbance began shortly before 6 p.m. Friday, March 15, at Gaiser Middle School, which was hosting the basketball tournament. After a confrontation between two students in the bleachers, security officers tried to remove the students from the gym. As the campus security officers moved the students outside, a large group of students followed and, according to a statement from the district, “continued to interfere with the actions of security staff.”
After the Clark County Sheriff’s Office was called, students were told to leave campus and the tournament was canceled. School officials say additional officers were called to the scene after more students joined the crowd who were “shouting and refusing to leave.”
The Sheriff’s Office said 33 police units were called to the scene Friday night and believe 60 to 70 students were involved.
“It was a stressful and overwhelming situation for a lot of people,” said 14-year-old Tia Lee, an eighth-grade student at Jason Lee Middle School and is among the 27 students who received an emergency expulsion.
Lee's father, Mychal Jones, was asked by the school's vice principal to pick her up from campus Monday morning. Jones said the administration said his daughter was emergency expelled for continuing to videotape the disturbance after being asked to leave by officers. Jones said his daughter's school also said recording the incident may have encouraged others to act out.
"When did it become against the rules to record what is going on around you," said Jones, who believes his daughter's First Amendment rights were violated.
Lee said she followed instructions from officers when they told her to move, but that the environment was chaotic and it wasn't always clear what space was OK to stand in.
Lee said she wanted to record the incident because one of the students removed by security in the initial confrontation was her friend. Lee videotaped the interaction as it escalated and more officers were called to the scene.
"They dragged him outside from the bleachers and pinned him against the wall," Lee said, saying the officers were overly aggressive toward the students.
"He was asking for personal space, but they wouldn't give it to him," she said.
In a video reviewed by OPB, an officer dragged a girl by her backpack, arm and hair before being pinned on the ground and arrested. Lee said that despite dozens of kids spilling out of the basketball tournament to see what was going on, only students of color were targeted by law enforcement.
“The kids that were arrested were brown,” she said. “That hurts me because I’m also brown.”
Law enforcement and school officials have not released the identities of the students arrested in the confrontation.
Lee says she believes the interaction with the police was especially charged given the recent police shootings in Vancouver. She said some of the students who were outside, shouting at officers, were directly impacted by the shootings. A few had known relatives shot and killed by police.
“When one of the first cops arrived, one of the kids said, ‘What are you going to do, shoot us like the rest of them?’” Lee said. “That was on a lot of people’s minds.”
A total of nine students were arrested and face felony and misdemeanor charges, including trespass, failure to disperse, third- and fourth-degree assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
Two of the nine students appeared in Clark County Juvenile Court Monday morning. A 13-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl were appointed attorneys and will return for arraignment hearings later this month.
According to court documents filed Monday, the 13-year-old boy allegedly pushed and punched a security officer and resisted arrest. He was released to his parents after the court appearance and faces counts of third-degree assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
A probable cause affidavit says the 14-year-old girl allegedly refused orders to leave the school grounds and spit in an officer’s face while using racial slurs directed at law enforcement. She was detained after Monday’s court hearing and faces counts of third-degree assault, criminal mischief, fourth-degree assault, and failure to disperse.
The other seven students arrested face misdemeanor charges currently under review by the Juvenile Prosecuting Attorney and did not appear in court Monday. Clark County juvenile court administrator Christine Simonsmeier said they may be eligible for diversion programs, an option available for first-time offenders and those charged with lesser crimes.
In a letter sent to parents, Superintendent Webb said the district is adding extra school resource officers to ensure safety for all students.
“Providing safe and supportive schools is our top priority,” Webb wrote. “We continue to work hard every day to maintain a respectful and nurturing environment, and we ask parents to be partners in this ongoing effort.”