Education

Cardinal Newman parents want students involved in racist videos held accountable

5 things to know about Cardinal Newman School

Here are five facts about Cardinal Newman School, located in Richland County.
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Here are five facts about Cardinal Newman School, located in Richland County.

Nearly two dozen upset parents told Cardinal Newman school administrators Wednesday to hold other students accountable for their involvement in a series of racist videos, texts and threats by a former 16-year-old student against the Catholic school.

In an open letter to Cardinal Newman and multiple Catholic schools, the parents asked for changes that they say will make the secondary school in northeast Columbia more accepting of minority students. The school and Catholic organizations have in the past “dismissed’’ racist actions by students, teachers, administrators and staff, the letter said.`

The letter took issue with the school’s decision to allow the 16-year-old to withdraw from school, rather than expel him, an action parents say could have alerted other schools the youth might enroll in.

The letter says the youngster in the videos, who has not been named by authorities, is connected to a family with deep political and financial connections in South Carolina.

It did not name the family, but said the family’s “position of political prominence should not shield this young man from increased scrutiny and accountability within the justice system.’’

The letter goes on to say others involved in making or sharing the racist videos should be accountable, despite their own family connections. At least one student knew about the videos for two months, but never told anyone, the letter said. At least eight students on a text chain knew about the racist videos, one parent told The State.

“Family backgrounds or connections of students who received these messages and did not report them (should not) shield them from disciplinary action by the school.’’

The letter, to be circulated at a town hall style meeting Thursday night at Cardinal Newman, was sent to administrators and Catholic leaders by a coalition of black and white parents from about a dozen families. Those listed on the letter include Claflin University administrator Cynthia Duncan Joseph, University of South Carolina administrator Tracy Skipper, and Karen Tanner, wife of USC Athletics Director Ray Tanner.

Parents urged the school not to believe arguments that racist videos and threats against the school were meant as a joke and done only for shock value. Shootings last weekend in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, reinforce the need to take the matter seriously, Joseph said.

“To suggest otherwise is outrageous and irresponsible to us,’’ Joseph said. “What we’re talking about are the possibility of mass shootings. You can’t apologize once it is done. Cardinal Newman has an opportunity to explore this and to do the right thing so we don’t have a situation like in El Paso or Ohio.’’

Cardinal Newman principal Robert Loia, who began working at the school this summer, apologized earlier this week for failing to tell parents about threats against the school until after The State newspaper reported on the racist videos Friday. Loia’s letter to parents last weekend was written more than two weeks after school officials learned of the racist videos and threat. The student in the videos was allowed to withdraw from school, rather than being expelled. But Loia said the school considers the matter serious. School officials have pledged to make improvements at Cardinal Newman.

The 16-year-old was shown in videos calling black people by a derogatory term and shooting targets he said represented African Americans, The State reported last weekend. In one video, he used a rifle to fire at a box of sneakers he said were popular with blacks. He said he hated black people.

“If you notice over there is a box of Jordans, the favorite pair of shoes for a black man,’’ the 16-year-old said. “I’m going to show you what I think of a black man.’’

The youth then fired at least three shots from the rifle at the box of shoes and uses a racially offensive term to describe black people.

In a series of later texts that included a video, the teenager threatened a shooting at the school, according to the Richland County Sheriff’s Department. The threat was enough to cause the Sheriff’s Department to arrest him on a charge of making student threats. Authorities have not said whether the case has been resolved or whether the student is in jail, raising safety concerns among some Cardinal Newman parents.

The student, identified as an Episcopalian by that church’s Upper South Carolina diocese, formerly attended Heathwood Hall Episcopal School before enrolling at Cardinal Newman, according to school reports reviewed by The State and a source whose children attended Heathwood with him.

Heathwood Hall officials declined comment.

Wednesday’s letter caps a week of growing outrage over the teenager’s racist videos and threats, and Cardinal Newman’s failure to notify parents. Earlier this week, parents blasted the school during a closed door meeting, and Tuesday, black leaders in Columbia voiced their own concerns.

The threats were referred to in legislation by Sen. Mia McLeod that she says will strengthen the law against threatening people. Wednesday’s letter follows statements from the Columbia Urban League earlier this week urging the school to take the Cardinal Newman matter seriously.

Wednesday’s letter demands a dozen changes parents said will improve Cardinal Newman School, a secondary school with more than 500 students that was founded in the 1800s.

Those include diversity training for staff, hiring a full time diversity dean, contracting with a diversity consultant and developing plans for a more a diverse staff. In the latter case, the letter says the school has few African American or Hispanic teachers or administrators.

If the school doesn’t make improvements, some parents may pull their children out of Cardinal Newman, the letter said.

“Will you act on the side of transparency and justice or hide behind policies that have traditionally silenced African American parents at Cardinal Newman School?” the letter asks.

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