Thursday, November 13, 2014

School district releases more documents on AMHS watermelon investigation

Principal ended watermelon ritual, notes relationships at AMHS weakened by controversy

Posted by Chris Haire on Thu, Nov 13, 2014 at 1:41 PM

The Charleston County School District has released more documents regarding the investigation leading up to the dismissal of Bud Walpole from his post as head football coach for Academic Magnet High School. The new documents show that AMHS Principal Judith Peterson and Athletic Director Curtis Hoffman played roles in the investigation before it was turned over to higher ups at CCSD. The docs also indicate Peterson made the decision to end the team's watermelon ritual.

Furthermore, the documents also seem to indicate that AMHS was not aware that a racist caricature had been drawn on the watermelon, several watermelons had been given the name "Bonds Wilson," and accusations that the players had made so-called monkey noises. That information appears to have been gathered during interviews with the players themselves.

The documents also indicate that the AMHS family did not universally accept the assertion that the watermelon ritual was an innocent act with no racial overtones. In fact, Peterson notes that the incident and the events that followed were hurtful to members of the AMHS in "different ways" and that relationships among faculty and staff had been "weakened."

According to the documents, it appears that the investigation into the watermelon ritual was prompted by the team's actions at the AMHS campus following their Fri. Oct. 10 victory against Garrett Academy. The documents note that the team's ritual disrupted a ninth grade event at the school, prompting teachers to tell "the players to leave and to clean up the mess." However, neither the team nor the coaches returned to pick up the pieces of watermelon. The team was later reprimanded and disciplined, although the documents do not say how.

Hoffman, conducted the initial investigation into the Oct. 10 watermelon incident, interviewing Walpole and an assistant coach. Peterson then interviewed an assistant coach and player. Following her investigation, Peterson notes, "While I personally want to believe that our players are simply repeating an action wrapped in superstition, I am sensitive to the possible misinterpretation and offensive connotations of the actions." Peterson adds, "I propose that the AMHS Raptor football team cease immediately the post-game routine of smashing a watermelon, cheering together, and eating pieces of the melon. With the CCSD leadership, I will meet with the coaches and the team this week to share my decision to cease the practice described."

The recently released documents also include a list of questions apparently drafted by Principal Peterson. The first question primarily deals with the specifics of the ritual while later questions were apparently drafted to find out if any students were offended by or objected to the ritual's racist connotations.Those questions include:

How does participating in the activity make you feel? Why?

Do you know of any team member who is reluctant to participate? How do you know that?

Did you or any team member talk to the coaches about the activity?

If the activity made you feel uncomfortable, why did you not talk with a coach, a teacher, or Ms. Peterson/[Asst. Principal] Ms. Pinckney?

Think about the activity for a minute ... what steps do you think Mr. Hoffman and I ought to take?
The documents also include a Oct. 16 letter to AMHS parent informing them of the investigation "to determine both the exact steps taken in the post-game activity involving a watermelon and the thinking behind the activity." In it, Peterson notes each football player was called to the lecture hall and "asked to bring work to accomplish while waiting their invitation to the conversation with [Associate Superintendent] Louis Martin and Mr. [Kevin] Clayton," a CCSD consultant. She notes that she "remained in the lecture hall and allowed students to leave for the restroom, water, and lunch."

On Oct. 31, the day after McGinley's resignation, Principal Peterson drafted a letter for AMHS students, colleagues, and parents addressing the turbulent series of events. She wrote, "The events of the past two weeks have been hurtful and disruptive for each of us in different ways ... [t]here is work ahead for us in restoring and reconciling relationships that may have been weakened in the actions, reactions, and statements of the past weeks. I believe in 'Magnet,' as a community of students, faculty/staff, and parents, and I will work diligently and purposefully to ensure that our commitment to one another and our understanding of cultural and personal similarities and differences are strengthened." Peterson then notes that she had formed a focus team to address those issues.

In a letter to faculty, Peterson writes, "The events of the last three weeks have raised many questions and concerns within our community, and we will work together to reconcile and restore relationships that may have been weakened and to learn more about the history of the Liberty Hill community and Bonds-Wilson High School [the African-American neighborhood that surrounds AMHS and the former African-American high school on which Magnet and its sister school, School of the Arts, are built.]

Academic Magnet report by CharlestonCityPaper


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