HUACHUCA CITY — About 100 kids and their parents gathered at the Huachuca City Park for a fun pre-Easter egg hunt, sponsored by the Sisters of Condon Chapter No. 12, Order of the Eastern Star Masonic Lodge in Huachuca City.
Saturday’s egg hunt marked the 17th year the masons treated the community to an event filled with games, prizes, and a family barbecue.
“It’s great for our town to get together like this,” said Seth Albright, who was at the park with his wife, Ashley, and four children, ranging from 11 months old to 13 years. “A lot of the families know each other because Huachuca City is a small town. The kids have fun looking for eggs, playing games and getting face paintings. It’s just a lot of fun.”
While kept busy flipping hamburgers behind the grill, Antonio Mitchell said of all the family events the masons do every year, the annual Easter egg hunt is his favorite.
“Along with this, we do multiple community events,” he said. “It’s typically very well attended and families look forward to it every year. The kids love it.”
SIERRA VISTA — An incident involving multiple members of Buena High School’s boys volleyball team posting racist and homophobic messages on a group Snapchat resurfaced Tuesday at Sierra Vista Unified School District’s school board meeting when parents, athletes and a coach took the podium during the call to the public.
They voiced their displeasure with the degree of punishment handed down by Buena High School administrators, saying administrators “suppressed” the athletes who posted the offensive messages instead of using the situation as a “teaching moment.”
On March 5, three Buena High School boys volleyball players were suspended from school and dismissed from the volleyball program after making racially insensitive and homophobic comments in the team’s Snapchat thread — which included one black teammate and some in the LGBTQ community. Those who spoke to the board Tuesday said a gag order was placed on them, so they could not talk about it with anyone and were seeking the reinstatement of the three senior players, claiming it was heavy-handed to remove them and has turned the season they thought could end with a state title into a losing one.
The board, who could not respond during the call to the public, asked Superintendent Kelly Glass to look into the matter. She told the Herald/Review on Wednesday that an investigation had been conducted and completed by Buena High School Principal Kristen Hale and Assistant Principal Nicole Young, saying, “The findings are valid and complete.” Glass would not release specific details of the investigation in order to protect the privacy of the students involved.
Hale said the punishments handed down were based off a policy already in place.
“Administration follows board policy in how we handle all disciplinary actions,” Hale emailed in a written statement to the Herald/Review Wednesday morning. “It is unfortunate that false statements and mischaracterization of the events that took place have been shared in this situation.”
However, Hale declined to comment on what was specifically said or done in response to the students’ actions.
“We are unable to share details surrounding the events that occurred out of respect for student privacy and in accordance with existing laws and policies,” Hale wrote in the same statement. “Buena Administration is and will continue to be committed to providing a safe environment while protecting the rights of all students.”
The group conversation on Snapchat — screenshots of which were obtained by the Herald/Review from an SVUSD administrator — began like normal: “Jv game starts at 4:30,” one volleyball player wrote, prompting discussion of their wardrobe for the away game against Canyon Del Oro.
Caleb Donaldson, a senior and one of the three boys suspended from school and kicked off the team, continued the conversation with what he says was a joke: “Do rags and wife beaters. … Knee high white socks.”
“Eleven words turned me into a racist,” he said Tuesday night in front of the board and again to the Herald/Review later that night. “I didn’t mean it in a racist manner. I don’t know how they took it that way. Even I know those three articles of clothing aren’t specific to any race, gender or sexual orientation.”
The Snapchat messages quickly turned from discussing clothing options to messages filled with racial and homophobic slurs, references to nooses, whips and lynching by two boys after Donaldson’s initial comments.
“Bring your whips and ropes,” one of the players commented in the social media thread.
“Noose,” another responded.
“Not everyone knows how to tie a noose so bring rope. Let’s f---- — lynch those entitled CDO fa---ts,” he countered.
The conversation amongst two of the four boys carried on with inappropriate detail until a concerned peer chimed in, asking what they had just read.
The response, “Lynching coons?” was made by the same person who initially brought up lynching the first time. One of the boys who was later suspended and also dismissed from the team quickly changed the subject back to wardrobe after a black player entered the chat and made his presence known.
The player who made the “noose,” “lynching” and “coons” references responded: “Sorry … I forgot you were in the group chat. Ngl.”
“NGL” is text shorthand for “not gonna lie.”
A mother of one of the team members — whose son was offended by the boys’ messages — reported the messages to school officials, which resulted in three of the four boys involved being suspended and removed from extracurricular activities — including the volleyball team and student council — due to the incident being deemed hazing by administrators.
SVUSD defines hazing in their district policy as: “ … any intentional, knowing or reckless act committed by a student, whether individually or in concert with other persons, against another student, and in which both of the following apply:
A. The act was committed in connection with an initiation into, an affiliation with, or the maintenance of membership in any organization that is affiliated with an education institution.
B. The act contributes to a substantial risk of potential physical injury, mental harm or degradation, or causes physical injury, mental harm or personal degradation.”
Although all the suspensions have been served, multiple players and coaches opted to skip Buena’s away match against Cienega High School on Tuesday to attend the regularly scheduled SVUSD governing board meeting to speak and show support for their former teammates.
Donaldson; Nancy Salminen-Donaldson (Caleb Donaldson’s mother); another student who was not involved in the chat, but wanted to speak about the punishment; and now-former volunteer coach John Lizama addressed the board Tuesday.
Salminen-Donaldson used her three minutes to share her displeasure with how school administrators handled the situation and the aftermath. She said she agreed a punishment was necessary and her son’s suspension was justified, but was unhappy the team could not communicate and that administrators “suppressed” what happened instead of using the incident as a teaching opportunity for the teenagers.
“The first couple of weeks, we were mad at these two boys,” Salminen-Donaldson said. “There’s no support for what these boys said … It would never be appropriate.
“What has us all upset is the way the administration handled the whole situation. Everyone was silenced instead of being given the opportunity to fix it.”
The silence, she says, prevented healing and the team from moving on.
Lizama told the board that Buena administrators, Hale and athletics director Brian Miller, put a gag order on him and his team, which prevented them from speaking about the incident and to each other. Donaldson added that he and the others were not allowed to attend practice to talk to their teammates, which he wanted to do in order to apologize face-to-face.
Glass told the Herald/Review the players, coaches and staff were told not to talk about the incident to protect the privacy of the students involved.
“We may never talk about another child or discipline because it’s a FERPA (The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) violation,” she said. “We asked the coaches and all of the staff to maintain students’ right to privacy in regards to disciplinary action.”
For some, it appeared that all of the discontent and push back came out of nowhere, but for Salminen-Donaldson and Ian Magatagan, a member of the boys volleyball team, speaking at the board meeting was in their plans.
Salminen-Donaldson gave the Herald/Review a copy of a letter she said she sent to the board on April 2 asking the board to look into “why three of the four boys were punished, and one received no punishment; why Caleb received such a harsh punishment; why people are not allowed to talk about the situation; and why there is no recourse when a student is accused of an action and they disagree.” She said she had not received a response from anyone until the day of the board meeting, when she was on the list to speak.
Like Salminen-Donaldson, Magatagan decided to attend the meeting after feeling unheard. He told the Herald/Review he tried to have a face-to-face meeting with Hale but was not given the opportunity. He attended Tuesday’s meeting because he found out when the board meetings are a day after the first one and was OK with missing the Colts’ match against Cienega.
There wasn’t an open seat in the room Tuesday, as they were filled with roughly half the team and parents as a sign of support for the players.
Rumors swirled that the players, roughly half the team, and Lizama, who attended Tuesday’s board meeting, were dismissed from the team Tuesday night.
Glass said in an interview late Wednesday morning that it was the players’ right to attend the meeting and speak at the call to the public. Therefore, Glass said, they have not been removed from the team. However, multiple sources confirmed head coach Paige Chastain notified all the boys at Thursday’s practice of administrators’ decision to suspend the boys who attended last week’s board meeting for this coming Tuesday’s match.
Glass also said Lizama was not let go.
However, Lizama provided copies of emails showing he was “relieved of his duties” by Buena Athletics Director Brian Miller prior to Tuesday night’s meeting. The move to terminate Lizama was reiterated in an email from Miller Wednesday afternoon.