Niskayuna, Schenectady student leaders to meet over racist comments at soccer game

Some parents criticize lack of oversight at sporting events
The sign in front of Niskayuna High School is pictured.
The sign in front of Niskayuna High School is pictured.

NISKAYUNA — Student leaders from Niskayuna and Schenectady school districts could meet as early as Monday to discuss last week’s girls varsity soccer game, where racist comments were directed at Schenectady players.

Niskayuna district officials are still investigating the incident, but administrators in both districts have acknowledged that racist comments from the Niskayuna student section were directed at Schenectady players during the game, which Niskayuna won 9-0.

The two districts are working to bring together student leaders to discuss what happened and develop ideas about how to strengthen the districts’ relationship with one another. The high school student councils in the two districts have also been in communication.

“How we can create a better sense of unity among our schools?” Reem Djebli, a student representative to the Niskayuna school board, said of the effort.

During Tuesday’s Niskayuna school board meeting, a pair of residents told the school board that district leaders should have done a better job of overseeing students at the game and communicating with parents about what happened. Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. released a statement to the community following the incident decrying the racial slurs.

“I was further disappointed that Dr. Tangorra did not denounce it in a more forceful manner in his statement,” said Amanda Brazee, a parent of three Niskyuna students. “Yelling racial slurs is abhorrent behavior that must never be tolerated and it is important to reinforce that.”

Brazee also said the incident should have been communicated to parents sooner and questioned whether district officials would investigate whether there was a broader issue of racism or racial bias within the district.

Pat Lanotte, a former Niskayuna school board president, said the district needs to bolster its efforts to supervise athletic and other student events. There should have been district staff on hand to make sure they were able to immediately respond to inappropriate student comments, she told the school board.

“The fact that we don’t know what happened is disturbing to me,” she said. “No one knows what the truth is, because no one was there.”

She also said the district is responsible for creating a positive environment for visitors coming to Niskayuna events, calling the district her “second home.”

“When we invite people to my second home, I expect there will be appropriate numbers of adults there so if an unfortunate incident occurs, you can address it,” Lanotte said.

Tangorra at the meeting condemned the comments at the soccer game and reiterated the ongoing efforts within the district to improve awareness around diversity and different student perspectives.

“It wasn’t an accident, it wasn’t misbehavior, it was an appalling action that took place,” Tangorra said at Tuesday’s board meeting.

He also said there are far more students who have voiced repulsion to the racist comments than the number of students responsible for the comments. He said any students found to be responsible for the comments would be disciplined under the student code of conduct.

Previous: Niskayuna students hurl racist slurs at Schenectady girls soccer players, Oct. 10, 2018

But it’s not clear whether Niskayuna officials will ultimately identify who was responsible for the comments. During morning announcements to the school Friday, high school Principal John Rickert said the matter was still being investigated but that allegations swirling about specific students making racist comments had “yet to be proven.” He told students there would be zero tolerance for trash talk at future sporting events.

“Unfortunately, we put ourselves in this situation by engaging in a culture of trash talk at sporting events; this culture of trash talk will not occur any longer,” Rickert said in the Friday announcements. “Because this [trash talk] occurred, and we know this occurred, it opened up to serious, serious criticisms of a level yet to be proven.”

After Tuesday’s board meeting, Rickert said he trusted that Schenectady athletes had heard racist comments from the Niskayuna crowd and said during the announcements he was telling students that allegations that specific students were responsible had not been proven. He said he was still collecting information about what had happened and was not prepared to report any findings.

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