DOJ investigates racial attacks at Catholic high school
A virtual meeting has been called to address a real issue some parents say was being ignored by administrators and church officials at St. Pete’s Catholic High School.
What do you want to know
- About two months ago, racial slurs and threats were allegedly found written on a bathroom wall at St. Pete’s Catholic High School.
- After the NAACP stepped in to support students and families, officials say the problem only got worse
- Some parents say the school hasn’t done enough to address the issues
- School officials, however, say they responded immediately and have since hired a former FBI agent to conduct an independent investigation.
It all unfolded two months ago when racial slurs and threats were found written on the campus bathroom wall. That’s when the local NAACP chapter stepped in to support the concerns of black students and families, but the civil rights leader said it sparked even more trouble.
“In fact, the day after the press conference, six students in six different cars put Confederate flags on their cars and drove to school,” St. Pete NAACP President Esther Eugene said. “About the week after the press conference, someone else called the N-word in the gymnasium bleachers.
Eugene announced that the United States Department of Justice was opening an investigation into the denominational school’s handling of the situation.
Fabre Williams, whose son is in first grade at St. Pete Catholic, watched the virtual reunion and said it will be her last year as she has lost faith in the St. Petersburg Diocese school.
“It doesn’t do anything to my faith,” Williams said. “However, it definitely makes me question them – the church, the Catholic church. It makes me question the school: what are their motivations when it comes to our children?”
The school is under the authority of the Diocese of Saint Petersburg. In an email to Spectrum Bay News 9, diocesan officials said numerous steps have been taken to address the issue.
In an email to Spectrum Bay News 9 on Thursday, the school detailed the steps that had been taken since the issue was first discovered:
From the moment we discovered the racist graffiti on our campus, the school took immediate action – which included all of the following:
- Lock the bathroom and launch an internal investigation
- Publicly denounce racism and prejudice in written and oral communications to all school stakeholders
- Activate an anonymous phone line
- Coordination with St. Pete Police
- Faculty and staff training
- Emphasize racial harmony during all school masses
- Hundreds or hours of small group parent listening sessions where every parent in the school was invited to participate
- Several meetings with NAACP leadership, including one with the Diocesan Committee on Racial Harmony
- Conversations with elected officials
- Programs and speakers for students
- An open door policy allowing students to speak directly to the director
- A comprehensive survey of school culture and climate in cooperation with Johns Hopkins University School of Education
Additionally, we have hired an investigator, a former FBI agent, to conduct a thorough and independent investigation. We placed no restrictions on this process because we wanted the Investigator to follow the facts wherever they lead and have plenty of time to ensure a complete and accurate final report.
The investigator just informed us yesterday that we were to anticipate a final report by mid-April. At this point, we will communicate with the Catholic community of St. Pete about the results. We have taken this question seriously and are committed to finding answers.
Our Catholic faith is very clear on racism and racist acts. This will not be tolerated. In fact, our faith calls us to be advocates and allies of the disenfranchised.