Hateful language on the football field or in a speech competition could result in suspension from the activity under a new Westside Community Schools policy.
This week, the Westside school board unanimously approved an anti-hate activities policy that will go into effect in the upcoming school year. The policy applies to students, coaches, advisers and volunteers in the district participating in extracurricular activities and programs.
The policy states that anyone who uses hateful language or engages in any act against or directed toward a person based on that person’s sex, race, ethnicity, background, religion, gender or sexual orientation will be subject to immediate suspension from the activity.
In addition to serving a suspension, the policy also states that the offender’s participation in an activity can resume only after he or she completes an anti-hate and anti-bias education program approved by the district.
Prior to the start of the new season of sports and activities, Westside officials also will talk to students about the importance of treating competitors and teammates with respect. They also will note that racial slurs and disparagement never should be part of any competition or school activity, said Adam Yale, a member of the Westside school board.
Westside’s new policy comes after several reports of racial slurs being yelled from the stands at Black high school basketball players.
Officials from Omaha Northwest High School reported that boys in the Norfolk High School crowd yelled the N-word at the Northwest girls varsity team as they left the court after a February game against Norfolk High.
As a result, Norfolk Public Schools was placed on probation by the Nebraska School Activities Association for the remainder of the school year. The district issued an apology and started developing an equity and diversity plan.
The incident at Norfolk came less than two weeks after a similar report at Creighton Prep, where someone alleged that a person in Prep’s student section called a Bellevue West High School player the N-word.
“Any and all racist and discriminatory language is contrary to our values and the spirit of the Creighton Prep community and will not be tolerated,” Prep said in a statement after the incident.
Yale said Westside’s policy was in response to those incidents and others.
“It is frightening to me that we sit here in 2021 and we still have to deal with this junk,” Yale said. “And we’re going to try to do something about it. Obviously, as a society, as a state, as a community, we have a long way to go, but we’re going to see if we can make any difference here.”
The policy is part of the work of the WE-Side Community Council. Launched in summer 2020, the acronym stands for Welcoming Equity Support Inclusion and Dignity for Everyone.
In 2021, the district plans to have students, staff, parents and community members “join us as we analyze our curriculum, gain a better understanding of one another, address sometimes uncomfortable but critical topics, and more, with the goal of being a school district where everyone belongs,” according to district’s website.
Yale said the district is not aware of any other district in the state with a similar policy, but he hopes Westside won’t be the first and last district to make this a priority.
He acknowledged that he already can see ways around the policy, and a lot of what happens during a competition isn’t heard by everyone, which can turn it into a “he said/she said” situation. Yale said the board will modify the policy as needed.
“At the very least, we’ve got people thinking about it,” Yale said. “We’re actively teaching it. And our hope would be that we aren’t going to be the only ones.”