Editor’s note: This story has been edited to remove sensitive video.
VALLEY CENTER, Kan. (KSNW) — The Valley Center and Topeka school districts released a joint statement on Wednesday to give an update on what it has learned about its students’ actions and words at a game on Saturday.
Some fans from the other team called the students’ behavior racist.
The incident happened Saturday after Topeka High traveled to Valley Center High School for junior varsity and varsity basketball.
During one of the boys’ games, Topeka fans say that some Valley Center students and fans were calling out racist slurs, waving around a Black baby doll, and shouting other insults. At least one person posted videos of a couple of incidents on Facebook.
“Our parents were saying, ‘Where is your administrator? Why is nobody doing anything about this?'” Jo’Mhara Benning, a Topeka High School sophomore who posted two videos of the incident, said. “They were chanting names at our players from the student section, and we also heard…we were also called the N-word.”
In its statement Tuesday about the incident, the Valley Center school district said fans from both sides became very loud and involved because it was a hard-fought game.
“Valley Center High School principals, Mrs. Melissa Seacat and Mr. Chris Asmussen, did their best to handle reported situations, particularly those involving some students in the Valley Center student section,” the district statement said.
The district says that near the end of the game, a Topeka player was fouled, and an inappropriate chant of “He’s a pu**y” erupted from the VCHS student section.
“Administration immediately began removing students involved and shifted to a proactive mode to prevent any further negative interactions as the game ended; an off-duty police officer also assisted in getting everyone to leave the game immediately after it was over,” the district said.
The statement goes on to explain the Black baby doll in the student section.
It says a student was assigned an infant simulator for a Human Growth and Development class. The student brought the baby simulator to the game because the assignment involved keeping the “baby” close and caring for it as if it was a real infant. The simulator has an internal electronic device.
“Based on a review of videos, the baby was passed around between students during the game,” the school district said. “While the ‘baby’ was not brought intentionally as a prop to taunt or threaten Topeka High School, without context, seeing the ‘baby’ and images of the ‘baby’ caused hurt and concern to many, and for that, we are very sorry.”
The statement goes on to say, “We know that our students acted inappropriately and were not representative of our school district.”
During an interview with KSN News on Monday, Topeka High School boys basketball coach Geo Lyons said he’s never seen behavior like this in his career.
“Nobody, myself included, did anything to protect my kids, or my child for that matter,” Lyons said. “It was my son who was at the free throw line when the chant, ‘He’s a pu**y’ started. The N-word was used and thrown around, you know, our kids were told they were going to be hanged … I had a down locker room, I’m talking about tears were flowing in that locker room.”
The Valley Center school district statement on Tuesday says the district has not found any evidence of racist remarks being made during or following the basketball game. However, it says that VCHS and Topeka High School administrators are working together to investigate the claims.
The district also listed some of the other actions it has taken since Saturday’s game:
- Valley Center High School administrators spent this past weekend, most of Monday, and are continuing to investigate what transpired. They have reviewed videos and have had countless interviews with those in attendance.
- Valley Center Public School Superintendent Dr. Cory Gibson contacted Dr. Tiffany Anderson, superintendent of the Topeka School District Monday morning to offer an apology, and they have remained in correspondence since then.
- Valley Center Public Schools sent a letter of apology to Topeka USD 501 and the Topeka High School community. (See the complete letter of apology below.)
- The district sent a letter to all VCHS families and students explaining there would be follow-up consequences for those students involved and that the community should learn and grow from this experience.
- VCHS administration and student leaders are meeting to discuss how to best move forward and demonstrate to all guests that the district is inclusive and respectful.
- The Valley Center school superintendent and the high school principal have visited with many patrons from Topeka and Valley Center in the last two days. The district says the two have apologized and promised the district would be better than what was exhibited on Saturday evening.
- Additional support will be added at future games to help with supervision.
KSN News spoke to Larry Burks, president of the Wichita Branch NAACP. He said he is aware of the incident and is working on notifying the Kansas NAACP. The Valley Center school district statement says that the Wichita Branch NAACP requested a meeting to discuss what happened and how best to move forward. It says the meeting happened Tuesday morning.
USD 262’s letter of apology to Topeka USD 501
Topeka High School community:
We are aware of the inappropriate language and behavior exhibited by some of our Valley Center High School students at the VCHS vs. Topeka High School basketball game this past Saturday.
First, we are sorry. We are better than the conduct we exhibited on Saturday. We would never want anyone in our schools, especially visitors, to feel insulted, upset, or disgusted by our behavior. The behavior exhibited was not in alignment with the values or teachings our district strives to uphold. We are embarrassed by this display and will work diligently to keep it from recurring.
Second, we wish to assure you the situation is being addressed by the administrative team at Valley Center High School. Additionally, the administration team and basketball coaching staff are meeting with students including the Student Council to learn from this situation. In addition, USD 262 Dr. Cory Gibson has talked with Topeka School District Superintendent, Dr. Tiffany Anderson offering his apology to her and your community personally.
Finally, we will do better. Thank you for sharing your feelings about your treatment at our high school. Please know we have heard you and we share in your concerns. We will use this experience to learn, grow, and improve.
Thank you.”Valley Center Public Schools, USD 262
Joint Statement by Topeka and Valley Center on Wednesday
Dear Staff and Families,
As both districts work in a unified manner to investigate matters related to the athletic events on Saturday, we as superintendents are both committed to ensuring a safe and respectful climate at school events. Incidents that occurred when individuals did not conduct themselves in ways that reflect our commitment to supporting students have been handled, and there are investigations that are ongoing. We will work together to ensure the appropriate individuals are held accountable and work together to prevent such incidents in the future.
It’s important all parties allow for investigations to occur and that we model for students ways to address adversity when it arises. As superintendents, we are working jointly to address the issues and uncover the facts about what occurred so that inaccurate information and rumors are not circulated. The incident that occurred is concerning and we both need community support and grace to allow us to complete the investigation.
We are continuing discussions between the principals and superintendents as we investigate the issues. We do not support or condone violence or any language or behavior that promotes violence and we both remain prepared to hold individuals accountable if threatening language or behavior is displayed disrupting the school environment.
Thank you for allowing the districts to work together to fully investigate matters and address the issues in cooperation with the athletic association. Be assured that we both have the best interests of each other’s students and communities at heart in our conversations and decisions.”Dr. Tiffany Anderson, Topeka Public Schools & Dr. Cory Gibson, Valley Center Schools