An admission of racism at Hoover High School and an apology for inaction surfaced somewhat surprisingly during a Glendale Unified school board meeting on Monday.
“The first step is to admit when there’s something wrong,” said board member Shant Sahakian, who shared his experience of having Latino “racist epithets thrown” at him when he was with Latino friends as a Hoover High student.
“A little bit of what the parents want is straight talk, so I want to give a little bit of straight talk,” he added. “Does Hoover High School have a racism problem? Yes. It’s a very simple answer.”
That response came a month after a brawl on the Hoover High campus on Oct. 3 that led to more than a dozen student suspensions, Hoover’s forfeit of three football games, along with the cancellation of the “Battle for the Victory Bell” rivalry contest with Glendale High, and changes to homecoming ceremonies for Crescenta Valley, Glendale and Hoover high schools.
“We apologize for what our staff and our leadership did and the decisions they made and not being aggressive and proactive with this. That’s a fact,” board president Greg Krikorian said.
Last Thursday, the district released a long-awaited report during a press conference in which it tried to explain what happened Oct. 3, why the rivalry game was canceled and how Hoover and the district plan to move forward.
Since the beginning of the investigation into the incident, district officials have staunchly said the brawl was not a “race riot,” and the fight had nothing to do with race, instead pointing to cultural differences and a miscommunication.
The report, press conference, and various district releases since Oct. 3 contradicted the experiences shared by some Hoover High parents and students.
A few voiced their concerns Monday.
Hoover senior football player Jaiden Forster countered the district’s assertion that a special-needs student’s involvement before the fight was “conjecture” and “hearsay.”
The fight, according to some students, stemmed from members of the football team defending a special-needs student they allege was being bullied by an Armenian student.
“I firsthandedly witnessed the bullying, so the district and its members will not continue to tell the community of Glendale that it never happened because I watched it,” Forster said. “[The special-needs student] only looked to make new friends, but the other students thought otherwise.”
Forster said he did not think the alleged episode and reaction by football team members led to the fight.
“The cause of the brawl was something much more than bullying. It was racially motivated,” Forster said followed by a burst of applause from the audience.
Teammate Guillermo Corrales said he and Forster defended the special-needs student and felt betrayed by the district.
“We saw something that we felt we had the need to stand up for and we stood for it proudly,” Corrales said. “It hurts me that I know if I stand up for something that I don’t feel is right that I’ll be the one who gets punished the most.”
Hoover parent Kipp Tribble, who has three daughters attending district schools, said many district parents are fearful for their children’s safety.
“There’s a bubble of intolerance that has been in our Glendale schools for years, and the answer of ‘misunderstandings’ between kids points to an effort to dismiss an ugly topic,” Tribble said.
Laury Kelly, a Hoover High parent and alumna, said most students at Hoover have experienced some form of racism, sexism and bigotry and that the community “cannot just sweep this under the rug.”
Joal Ryan, a Toll parent and former board candidate, criticized the district’s inability to come to terms with what happened.
“There has been such a reluctance to accept and own, again, the bigness of the fight,” Ryan said. “I think the only way to combat that is to have a bigness of response and to have a town hall and forum.”
Sahakian’s and Krikorian’s comments came during a presentation by Hoover assistant principal Romela Khachikyan and Glendale Unified Supt. Winfred B. Roberson Jr. titled, “Supporting a Safe and Inclusive School Culture at Hoover High School.”
The report advocated the use of restorative justice circles, which are gatherings in which people with problems speak in a group to bring about a resolution.
Forty of the 70 Hoover teachers expected to run the circles have received training, while Roberson also pointed to a twice-annual art show, a human rights assembly, student-mentor circles and parents on patrol as ways to boost respect and inclusion at Hoover.
Roberson said he favors a series of strategic listening sessions with 75 to 100 parents rather than a forum and has called for the first of at least three sessions to be held on campus on Wednesday, as well as on Nov. 14 and Nov. 28.
Sahakian, whose “straight talk” brought robust applause, called on stakeholders to put aside differences.
“Whether the Oct. 3 incident was a misunderstanding or not, we know this issue existed before, it existed during and it existed after,” Sahakian said. “Right now, where we are today, we need to come together.”