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Racist Tweets 'Teachable Moment For America,' Says Schools Superintendent

District and elected officials rallied to support Mount Vernon students on Friday. Photo Credit: Zak Failla
Onlookers showed their support for the Mount Vernon basketball team. Photo Credit: Zak Failla
Residents came out to support Mount Vernon interim Superintendent Judith Johnson. Photo Credit: Zak Failla

MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. – Mount Vernon officials, parents and teachers rallied around Interim Schools Superintendent Judith Johnson on Friday as she called for justice after Mahopac students acted inappropriately during and after a loss in the Section 1 championship semifinal.

Johnson said that both school districts are continuing the investigation into the Feb. 27 incident, which saw several Mahopac students – eight of whom have already been suspended and assigned sensitivity training – sharing racist Tweets after their school narrowly fell to the Knights 43-40.

Some of the tamer of the racist Tweets read, “That’s why you shouldn’t let monkeys out of their cages,” and “tough loss boys, but at least we can talk to our dads about it.” Another included a picture of pennies, intimating that it was a Mount Vernon family’s income.

According to Johnson and members of the basketball team, aside from the Tweets, there were racist comments from the other team, and the crowd, more than 400 strong, came dressed in all white, and turned their back when the Knights were introduced.

“That’s what they think of us,” Johnson said after going over the facts of the case in the Frederick Pierce Board Room. “These actions are being discussed around the country. This is a teachable moment for America.”

Representatives from Mount Vernon and Mahopac met with state officials from the Commissioner of Education’s Office on Thursday to outline how to best move forward.

The principals of each high school have agreed to meet to continue the investigation, and both Boards of Education will seek council with a third party to discuss the incident. Additionally, a meeting of both student governments has been arranged to determine how to use this as a teachable moment. Johnson is also planning to seek the opinion of the state Division of Human Rights to determine if there were any violations of the law.

The interim superintendent stood by her assertion that the Mahopac boys basketball team should also serve a full-year suspension, an outcome, which seems unlikely.

“We’re seeking legal guidance from our lawyers to see what litigation is available to us,’ she said. “We’re focusing on the law. Kids need to know that in Mahopac, if you break the law, you are going to be punished.”

Johnson, Mount Vernon varsity head coach Bob Cimmino and his team were praised by the audience and elected officials for attacking the issues head on and not ducking away from it. Mayor Ernest Davis said that this incident shows that society may have a larger problem on its hands. “Thank you for standing up and being courageous. Is this an isolated incident, or a cancer that just showed itself. You have to look past this incident and connect some dots,” he said. “We may find that we, as a society, have a lot to get done.”

Brenda Crump, a member of the Mount Vernon Board of Education, said that the fight the district is putting up will be a good example for students.

“We have the opportunity to fuel or smother this incident, and we’ve chosen to smother it,” she said. “Our kids know that they are somebody and won’t let anybody treat them like nobody.”

Mount Vernon boys basketball team will face off against Union-Endicott at 5:45 p.m. on Saturday in Binghamton in the state tournament.

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