Gloucester High School students who fired shots in a national barrage of racist epithets on Twitter.com last week are being suspended from school athletic programs and face other sanctions, Superintendent Richard Safier has announced.
In a prepared statement, Safier said students involved in a stream of racist comments targeting Joel Ward — the Washington Capitals' player whose goal eliminated the Boston Bruins from Stanley Cup play April 25, and one of hockey's few black players — would "lose participation in a sport for a considerable length of time," and any of them with "leadership opportunities in extracurricular activities, or sports," will forfeit those as well.
The district began investigating the incident last week, and identified five students involved. At least two of the students who play on school teams were suspended Friday for the remainder of the spring season, sources said Friday. At least two were also involved or were set to be involved in leadership roles, such as captaining sports teams or serving in student government. Those positions will be forfeited, according to Safier's announcement.
School officials declined all comment Friday on what students were involved and how they were disciplined.
All of the racist comments, most of which included use of the "N" word and others that made derogatory remarks targeting blacks, were posted on Twitter.com.
Unlike text messaging, Twitter isn't private, but publicly available for view around the world. Anyone clicking on at least some of the students' "tweets" could easily identify they were from Gloucester.
"I want to state how profoundly disturbing such remarks are at any time and in any context," Safier said. "The racial epithets expressed were compounded by their publication on a national sports website. We take this issue seriously. Such misconduct contradicts the values and standards of Gloucester High School and the Gloucester Public Schools as a whole."
Safier said the district is taking steps to ensure that schools foster an atmosphere that teaches students to respect others, appreciate diversity, and model good citizenship. The students involved in the incident will be required to participate in an extensive program that looks at diversity through personal and environmental awareness, skill building and practical activities.
The schools are also working with the Student Council to develop a high school core values campaign and are reviewing the U.S. History curriculum with regard to it portrayal of the history of race in America.
Tweets from the five students fell into a nationwide firestorm of similar racist messages. According to tweets sent and later identified by the Times, Gloucester students using the handles devin_GeraldHart635, Glidden24, OwenParisi, Steven_Cardone and Ryan_Smith11 sent out a number of racist comments.
The GeraldHart account is not in any way affiliated with assistant coach Gerald Hart, and the accounts have all been taken down, the Times has confirmed. But among the tweets posted by Gloucester High students were:
From a GeraldHart635: "Of all the people to score, it had to be the N —." The poster used the full word, not dashes.
From the same poster at GeraldHart635, and "retweeted" by Glidden24, also of Gloucester: "The only thing that is black and should be aloud (sic) in a rink, is the puck ... that's it."
The next day, the devin_GeraldHart635 user posted an apology for the remarks — after he and others had been bombarded by a litany of outraged, online respondents.
"Dear Followers and Twitter World," he wrote. "I am very sorry to make such a ignorant, racist comment. It was a very stupid, dumb mistake."
The Times also found a message from Ryan_Smith11, retweeted by Glidden24, reading:
"Don't make fun of blacks, I had a few in on my family tree. Until I cut the ropes." The account also identified the poster as being from Gloucester.
City school officials aren't the only ones across New England and the nation wrestling with the aftermath of the racist outburst, which has drawn fire from political and civic leaders from coast to coast.
The actions Gloucester has taken, said Safier, has been deliberate and treated the incident in a measured way and with a balanced and constructive response.
"It is important to not that this unfortunate incident took place outside of school, was perpetrated by many across the region, was not done on school equipment, and did not involve a fellow student as a direct victim," Safier said. "... This instance of inappropriate behavior has been treated as, ultimately, it should be — with measured consequences and as an educational opportunity to promote respect dignity, diversity and tolerance for all."
Sports Editor Nick Curcuru contributed to this story by Steven Fletcher, who may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.