California schools speak out against student’s ‘racist comments’ during basketball game

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A Southern California high school acknowledged that one of its students uttered “inappropriate and inflammatory racist” taunts during a boys basketball game last week.

The ugly scenes unfolded Friday during a game between the Laguna Hills High School Hawks and the visiting Portola High School Bulldogs from nearby Irvine in southern Orange County.

The Saddleback Valley Unified School District, which includes Laguna Hills, said Tuesday that a Laguna Hills student shouted the slurs.

"Inappropriate and inflammatory racist comments were made by an attendee during the game," Superintendent Crystal Turner said in a statement. "After a thorough fact finding process that included review of the entire game footage and interviews with each individual verified as being near the attendee, it was determined that the unacceptable comments were made by a student who attends LHHS."

An apology from the school and the district wouldn't lessen the impact of the incident, Turner said.

"Although apologies are necessary, they do not suffice," she said. "The words used by this student will never be acceptable."

A YouTube posting of the incident appears to capture a young person's voice yelling taunts that mention "chains," "cage" and a "monkey."

Irvine Unified School District spokeswoman Annie Brown said "the racist comments" uttered at Friday's game were "unacceptable and appalling."

"The Portola High School and IUSD community stand in full support of our student and their family," Brown said in statement to NBC News on Wednesday.

At the time of the slurs that were posted on YouTube, a Black player from Portola was about to shoot a free throw. But the player and his family said the slurs were made throughout the game, which Portola won, 58-48.

"Every time that I touched the ball, every time something happened with me around, you could hear them saying some sort of remarks toward me," the player told NBC Los Angeles.

Laguna Hills and Irvine have very small Black populations.

Irvine has a little more than 307,000 residents, about 1.7 percent of whom are Black, according to the most recent census data. Laguna Hills has about 31,000 residents, of whom 1.5 percent are Black.

Portola High School had 18 Black students out of 1,539 total enrolled, a little more than 1.1 percent, in the 2020-21 academic year, according to state Education Department data. Laguna Hills High School had 10 Black students out of 1,462 last year, less than seven-tenths of 1 percent.

"The language and connotations expressed by the words used do not represent the culture, attitudes, or feelings of the students and staff of LHHS, nor those of Saddleback Valley Unified School District," said Turner, the superintendent.

The taunts didn't appear to draw any response from fans around the offending student in the YouTube clip.

"The student has been counseled, and immediate, appropriate consequences and discipline have taken place," Turner said. "Bystander students have been advised regarding their responsibility to redirect such language and report it to school administration immediately."

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