Gov. Wolf condemns 'overt racism' at York Tech, other schools

Alyssa Pressler

A group of 30 protesters, including students and former students, gathered Friday near the York County School of Technology, hoping to call attention to alleged racial harassment at the school.

It appears they succeeded.

Gov. Tom Wolf weighed in on the situation later in the day with a statement, calling reported incidents "overt racism" and pledging to send resources to the school to help. Also, some of the protesters said the school administration has agreed to meet regularly with a diverse group of students to discuss racial issues.

A crowd gather near the York County School of Technology Friday morning to protest the alleged racial harassment of minority students. John A. Pavoncello photo

The protest came in the wake of a video that surfaced Wednesday showing students at the school carrying a Donald Trump sign through the halls with someone shouting "white power."

Since then, other students have come forward with stories of racial harassment that have occurred throughout the election season, escalating after Trump's victory Tuesday.

Former students of the technology school said the issue has been going on for years.

Protest: Ansoboie Marshall, an 18-year-old resident of York City, went to the school for two years before transferring out because of racial issues. She said she transferred to William Penn Senior High School and graduated from there in May.

Crisis team to be on-site at Vo-Tech Friday after reports of harassment

"I was miserable, and it wasn't even as bold as it is now," she said of the racism. "It took a toll on me, and because of that reason this hits home for me now."

Gabrielle Beattie, a 19-year-old York City resident, also went to the school before transferring to William Penn after harassment for her sexual orientation. She protested for her friends still in school.

Victorria Markle, a 14-year-old student from York City, and Eibreha Drayden, a 15-year-old student from Dallastown School District, originally spoke with the Dispatch about the harassment they have received in recent weeks. After speaking out, they said they were unable to go to school Friday because of death threats.

Crisis team to be on-site at Vo-Tech Friday after reports of harassment

Both were at Friday's gathering, however, and both wore black, along with many of their classmates, as a sign of protest. Several other students joined in the protest during their lunch hour Friday.

Kristen Sweets, a 15-year-old student at Central York High School, attended the protest with her parents' blessing to show solidarity with her friends at York County School of Technology.

"I hope this (protest) will be a method to end racism and discrimination among all groups of people," the Manchester Township resident said.

The protesters held signs that read "Make tech great again," "Unity," and "Peace for all Americans." They were met with honks from passers-by, as well as a few middle fingers and shouts.

Wayne Craun, a York Township resident who saw the protesters while shopping at a Giant in the area, bought them doughnuts to show his support.

"The kids are having a peaceful demonstration, and that's what they should be doing," he said.

Working together: Some students Thursday complained that the school's administrators were not taking the harassment seriously enough, but some said that attitude had changed by Friday morning.

Deaunte Corry, a 17-year-old student from Conewago Township, said administrators seemed more willing to work with students. He is among a diverse group of 15 students who will begin meeting regularly with administrators to discuss race issues.

"I feel like they're willing to make change," Deaunte said. "I feel like they're willing to work with us."

Another member of the group of 15 is Luzines Maldonado, a 16-year-old student whose home district is York City. She said there was still tension in the school, but she felt the school was handling the situation better than it had in the past.

"They're actually trying to listen to us now," Maldonado said.

The school's director, David Thomas, said he and the principal spoke with the group for more than an hour and a half about the different incidents and where they would go from here. The plan is to meet regularly, but Thomas said details of exactly how the group would be working together are still being hashed out.

"Overall, the kids kept reiterating that they love the school and the education they're getting here, (but) they just have some interpersonal issues with other students," Thomas said. "In my experience in education, that's pretty typical. For the most part, up until the recent couple of days, it's been a pretty harmonious school."

York Area Regional Police Chief Tim Damon said all was peaceful in the school on Friday.

School and state response: Representatives from the state Department of Education and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, as well as a crisis-response team from the Lincoln Intermediate Unit, were dispatched to the school Friday morning to work with the administration "to assure that all of our students are provided a safe environment for learning," according to an automated call to parents Thursday night.

Christina Reese, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, said the organization had staff members at the school to assess the situation and determine whether training or programs need to be implemented to continue to improve the situation. On Friday, she hadn't heard if they had made any decisions.

Thomas issued a statement on the school's website Friday afternoon. He wrote that security had been increased on the campus as a precaution and encouraged students to report all incidents of harassment. Psychologists from the Lincoln Intermediate Unit also will be present Monday to provide support for students.

According to the statement, the school is working with the Pennsylvania Department of Education to develop culturally diverse and multicultural programming to prevent similar issues from arising.

Thomas said that while there were no incidents at school Friday, there was a high absentee rate because of a two-hour delay, the nice weather and the incidents that have been occurring. To start the day, psychologists from the Lincoln Intermediate Unit were sent to first-period classes to speak with students. Thomas said a safe room was established for students to talk about incidents they were uncomfortable sharing in front of a class.

"We're just trying to get the school back to normal," he said. "Hopefully next week will bring a normal week around here."

Governor speaks up: Wolf on Friday released a statement concerning the alleged racist incidents at York County School of Technology. The statement said other incidents have occurred in schools across Pennsylvania and in other parts of the country.

"What has occurred at York County School of Technology and other schools across Pennsylvania is overt racism, and my administration will do everything it can to end it and prevent it from happening in the future," the statement read.

The statement said Wolf has contacted York City Mayor Kim Bracey and directed the Pennsylvania Department of Education to send resources to the technology school. The Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network will be sending a school psychologist to work with the students, and the Student Assistance Program Advisory Team in York County is on standby to work with any individuals engaging in negative behaviors.

The Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network's school psychologist is trained in trauma and crisis management. The organization typically works with students who receive special education services. The Student Assistance Program Advisory Team in York County is supported by county children and youth agencies and is trained to work with individuals and groups engaging in poor behavior.

"No child should feel unsafe in his or her school, and I will continue to provide any resources necessary to stop this type of behavior from happening," Wolf said in the statement.