UMATILLA — At a high school basketball game Friday, Jan. 20, between Umatilla and Nyssa high schools, a student grabbed a microphone and did something he and his friends would regret, according to Heidi Sipe, Umatilla School District superintendent.
She said a Umatilla student, thinking the microphone was off, tried to be funny and started making racist jokes for his friends.
This was during a broadcast of the game, and the microphone was on. The racist comments were recorded for home viewers to hear.
A Nyssa High School fan, watching the broadcast at home, contacted the district to let people know of the comments.
Sipe said there are some details she would not divulge. She would not say who the student was or what punishment would be dealt.
Students provide commentary for broadcasts of games. Sipe wouldn’t say whether the student was part of the commentary team, a player or a fan. As the student is a minor, she said she wouldn’t disclose details that could hint at his identity.
Sipe called the statements “not funny in any way, shape or form.” She added they were “racially hateful,” but she declined to say what those statements were.
She did, however, say the student made remarks toward two different racial groups. The student actually belonged to one of the groups he was mocking, Sipe said.
“The students involved in the situation are all students of color, so they believed they were joking with one another and using the terms with one another,” she said.
Whatever the words were, the comments were bad enough to warrant a Facebook post from the district after some viewers of the broadcast reported them.
The Umatilla School District post denounced the statements as “appalling” and stated the district would “move forward to address this act and ensure all people are accepted and treated with respect at our schools.”
The Umatilla superintendent contacted Nyssa High School, and she spoke to administrators about the incident.
“They were very kind and appreciated us reaching out,” Sipe said.
By the end of the work day Jan. 23, the district had made steps to move forward. The district investigated the incident, interviewed students and identified those involved.
According to Sipe, the student behind this ‘”hot mic” incident expressed remorse.
Sipe pointed to a cultural trend of people speaking “racial terms” but in a joking manner. Students must be aware of this trend, she said, and they need to learn it isn’t OK, ever.
“We’re going to start working with our student and school leadership teams to try to start a campaign to make sure students understand the impact of words when they’re used in that way,” she said.
She said training initiatives will be employed. Some of them include ones already used for student athletes. Lessons will be given to students. Then, student leadership teams will decide how else they want to expand the initiatives.
Training will cover such things as showing students how to respond to racist comments made in their presence in ways that make people stop and consider their words.
Often, according to Sipe, people use words carelessly, saying things that run against their beliefs otherwise.
Umatilla High School and Clara Brownell Middle School students will address these topics in their advisory classes. Also, the district has notified parents. The parents, then, can learn about the lessons ans talk to their students at home.
In addition, Sipe said there will be some action related to the broadcasts, though she was not sure yet what would be done.
”It’s not that the program will cease, certainly,” she said, “but we need to have some safeguards in place to make sure that a mic cannot erroneously be used.”