Investigation finds district acted within guidelines on alleged racial bullying incident 

Employees of El Camino High School responded appropriately to an alleged incident of racial harassment of a black student, according to independent investigators hired by the South San Francisco Unified School District.

But according to school board member Maurice Goodman, the victim's parents claimed the incident was part of an ongoing pattern of hate speech, and the district is now taking steps to foster more equitable environments at all of its schools.

In the incident under investigation, some students allegedly used "the N-word" while taunting a black student with a noose and encouraging him to put it around his neck.

Goodman said he learned about the incident more than a year after it occurred and only because the victim's parents mentioned it while speaking with district Superintendent Alejandro Hogan. The parents, Goodman said, told Hogan about other incidents of alleged racial bias their son experienced on campus, including the use of a racial epithet allegedly by a football coach who is no longer at the school.

Goodman said the parents claimed El Camino's principal at the time, David Putney, did not appear to take their complaints seriously, and allegedly told them that the N-word is "a global word," and its use among teens was too commonplace to control.

In a closed-session meeting in October, the school board placed Putney on administrative leave. The board also hired a law firm to determine whether staff had followed district policy when responding to the suspected noose incident.

Some in the community interpreted the timing of these events to mean Putney had been suspended from his duties because of his handling of the bullying complaint, but sources within the district say those assumptions are not accurate.

District officials declined to comment on Putney's departure, and district spokesman Ryan Sebers said any public-information request pertaining to a disciplinary matter might be trumped by rules protecting employee privacy.

Goodman said he sympathized with the parents who felt the school's response to the incident was inadequate, and he questioned why the alleged perpetrators weren't prosecuted under a California law that prohibits hanging nooses on school campuses in order to terrorize students or staff.

San Mateo County Deputy District Attorney Karen Guidotti said her office doesn't normally comment on misdemeanor cases against juveniles, and she could not confirm whether charges related to the incident had been considered.

Measures taken by the district to address bullying and racial bias will include implementing a training program provided by the Facing History And Ourselves organization, Goodman said. According to the organization's website, Facing History teaches students about the historical context of prejudice and how that history can impact the decisions they make in their own lives.

The district also recently launched its first African American Parent Advisory Committee to address issues of concern to parents of black students. The committee's first meeting this month was led by Putney's replacement, El Camino interim Principal Linda McDaniel, who is black.

The culture at El Camino High has changed for the better as a result of the investigation, Goodman said, and parent involvement is helping the district to better address bullying and bigotry issues.

"Having parents involved in the process, and ensuring that their voices matter will only benefit the district as a whole," Goodman said.

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