It's sad but understandable in today's litigious culture that Gloucester Superintendent of Schools Richard Safier felt the need to scale back his suspensions handed to those Gloucester High student-athletes who posted racist and hateful Twitter posts targeting Washington Capitals forward Joel Ward, one of pro hockey's few black players, last month.
Yet Safier's admission that allowing two spring sports athletes to return to their teams came after "challenges that involved attorneys" gives a context to the move. And Safier, who deserves credit for stepping up and handling this disgraceful incident well from the start, would have been on shaky legal ground had he also ignored the advice of the schools' own legal counsel.
The good news is that Safier's other disciplinary actions — the idea that these students should forfeit any leadership opportunities, such as next fall's football captaincy — remain in place. The idea of these kids representing the school remains troubling; the thought of them being recognized as some sort of team or school leader should remain off the table.
Most worrisome, frankly, is the message that the kids whose parents challenged Safier's disciplinary actions will take from all this.
Will it be that, while recognizing their right to free speech, racist and hateful taunts like this should never be tolerated? Will it be that they need to be accountable?
Or will it be that, no matter what disciplinary actions they may face, they can beat the rap if they — or their parents — sue.
The parents' litigious action in this case shows that, when it comes to confronting racism, too many people just don't get it. That's the real shame.