Community Education Sports

Investigator unable to substantiate alleged slur at girls basketball game

Posted on February 25th, 2023 By:

Allegations of a racial slur at a Jan. 11 girls’ basketball game between Gig Harbor and Peninsula high schools are unsubstantiated, according to an investigation initiated by Peninsula School District.

Following the game, administrators at both high schools received reports that a member of the Gig Harbor High team used the N-word in a comment directed at a player from the Peninsula High team. District officials hired an independent investigator to review the claims and submit a report.

The investigation was completed by Feb. 17, according to a press release that was drafted that day but not immediately distributed.

Investigator reviewed documents, videos

“The Peninsula School District (PSD) Superintendent’s office, School Board of Directors, and administrators appreciate our community’s patience as an investigation was conducted into allegations regarding the use of a racial slur following a high school girls basketball game last January,” stated the Feb. 17 release from district spokeswoman Danielle Chastaine. “The investigation was performed by an independent third party to provide the facts of the incident, and results are now available.”

According to the press release, the alleged slur against the Peninsula High player occurred during the handshake line shortly after the Jan. 11 game between the district’s two high school teams.

The investigator spoke with 13 witnesses. They reviewed documents and videos — including social media posts, videos of the game, and emails.

“After reviewing the evidence, the investigator was unable to substantiate that a racial slur was used,” the press release stated. “Our hope is that we can come together as a district in the spirit of inclusiveness and work district-wide to support all of our students in a positive way that allows us to celebrate sports of all kinds and the pride of healthy competition.”

The district took no disciplinary action in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 11 game. At the time, district officials promised to decide on what sanctions, if any, were warranted after the investigation.

Closure of earlier game

The district closed a Feb. 10 district playoff game between the Tides and Seahawks to spectators “because of ongoing safety concerns” stemming from the investigation into the allegations, according to a news release sent shortly before that game.

An earlier release, sent Feb. 9, did not mention safety concerns. It instead stated the game was closed on advice of the district’s legal counsel and “in the interest of both teams.” The revised press release issued the afternoon of Feb. 10 indicated friction between the two teams.

The Tides and Seahawks played again on Feb. 3, after the investigation had started. Shortly before that game, according to the Feb. 10 release, the district notified each school about its “expectations of the team players, coaches, families, and their supporters who attended the game. During the Feb. 3 game, those expectations were not met, which led to the decision to close the Feb. 10 game to spectators, based on the advice of the district’s legal counsel. This decision was based on a multitude of safety factors.”

The Feb. 10 game was each team’s first district-level competition. Both subsequently earned a slot in the state playoff.

The Tides’ bid for the championship ended Tuesday with a 40-28 loss to Auburn-Mountainview. Everett eliminated Peninsula on Friday, Feb. 24, with a 56-51 win.

Parents, staff notified; wider community wasn’t

Chastaine, in an email Friday to Gig Harbor Now, said the district released information about the investigation’s results to parents of players on both teams and to high school staff at both schools on Feb. 17. The district also “created a press release in case of media inquiry.”

Gig Harbor Now received the Feb. 17 press release in response to a request Friday for an update on the investigation.

Peninsula School District’s recently drafted strategic plan highlights “creating an inclusive learning environment” as a value the district holds, the Feb. 17 press release stated. “This is still true, and Peninsula School District remains committed to creating an inclusive learning environment, while providing the best opportunities for every child, every day at PSD.”

Leila Jeneby, co-founder of a recently launched Black Student Union at Gig Harbor High School, recently told Gig Harbor Now that she’s heard racial slurs used at school on multiple occasions. The interview was about the club and not related to the investigation.

“I want to provide this space (the club) for kids of color to process that trauma that hearing those kinds of words produces,” Jeneby said.