An East Bay high school cheer team accused of posting racist images on social media is demanding an apology from its school district, saying members have been bullied and threatened all because of a lie.
Parents of students at San Ramon's California High School say their children have been defamed over pictures posted to social media showing what appears to be members of the cheer team posing with a black mannequin head, allegedly referred to as "Kareem."
"I've had to pull my daughter out of school because students are screaming at her from across the quad, 'You're a racist,'" parent Teresa Peres said.
Some people believe the photos were taken out of context.
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"I think that some photos were doctored or some photos were used to malign these girls, these students, and I don’t think that it's been fair," parent Jennifer Wasley said.
An attorney representing team parents said the allegations of racist posts are a lie started by a parent whose daughter didn't make the team.
"They refused to investigate despite being in a unique position to confirm the truth," Krista Baughman with Dhillion Law Group said. "They refused to address threats to the students despite their obligation to protect their students."
The group and their attorneys provided a picture of the mannequin to the media on Thursday. They claim it was gifted to the team seven years ago to practice different hair styles.
NBC Bay Area does not know where the pictures came from and has yet to find the original image.
As far as the mannequin's name, the group says it's "Karine," a name given by the manufacturer of the product.
"We've been very clear that we understand no malicious intent," San Ramon Valley Unified School District Superintendent John Malloy said. "The truth is, the existence of the mascot, regardless of context, regardless of all of those other factors, is still harmful to some."
Team parents are blaming Malloy for sending out a district letter in which he addressed the incident, calling it "offensive and racist implications."
"And we take responsibility to make things better," Malloy said. "This is not on the backs of students."
The issue comes as the district recently addressed an incident of racist graffiti at the school. Malloy said they plan to present a plan to the board next week to address all of the issues to create a more inclusive environment.
The school district issued the following statement regarding the mannequin:
Creating safe schools that are welcoming and inclusive for all our students requires us to examine our practices of how we may - even unintentionally - have a harmful impact on others. As our Strategic Directions state, all students must feel safe and included in our schools. At this time, some of our students have shared that they don't feel that way. It is our job to educate, and we have a specific plan moving forward that will be shared at the Tuesday Board Meeting.
In this specific situation, we know that members of the stunt team did not intend harm by using the unofficial mascot, and we also know they understood that they had to immediately discontinue this practice. Cal High Administration and District leaders met with the students and families soon after we were notified of the social media post. Moving forward, we continue to check in to listen to concerns, and we offered a commitment to work with them on this topic without drawing unnecessary negative and or harmful attention to our students. We are an educational organization and thus it is our responsibility to create the conditions, which include properly trained staff and support systems, to help our students make decisions and take actions that are culturally sensitive. It is our paramount priority to help students learn and grow, academically and socially, in safe environments.
As to the demand to have me removed from this position, I do not take that personally. I understand that some people are angry, but we cannot let that deter us from continuing our important work to create safe and inclusive environments for all.