Inquirer Editorial: Racism and repercussions

Richard Como has resigned as superintendent of the Coatesville Area School District.
Richard Como has resigned as superintendent of the Coatesville Area School District.
Posted: September 27, 2013

The most sickening element of the racist, sexist text messages allegedly traded by Coatesville's schools superintendent and high school athletic director is that the officials were entrusted with children. These are the adults who were supposed to be educating and guiding the city's young people. Instead, they are accused of casually demeaning their students and colleagues in conversations they had on school district cellphones.

What does it do to children's self-esteem to know that people who are meant to be their role models harbor such malevolent attitudes toward them?

The Coatesville school board accepted the resignations of Superintendent Richard Como and athletic director Jim Donato on Tuesday over the objections of parents who wanted the pair fired. Board members explained that they wanted to avoid costly litigation. But the offenders shouldn't be allowed to simply skulk away without further scrutiny.

A transcript of the texts shows a stream of unbridled contempt for African Americans, Jews, Latinos, Arabs, and women. At the very least, the authors owe students, parents, and their former colleagues an apology.

The Coatesville affair is another sad reminder that this is not a "post-racial" era, even though such behavior is publicly frowned upon these days. Hate hasn't gone away; it's just gone underground as societal norms have changed.

Similar vitriol can be found online, though it is usually voiced anonymously by people who are afraid to face the consequences of their words. They came out in force when Nina Davuluri was crowned Miss America, suggesting that the Indian American woman's skin color renders her unfit to wear the rhinestone tiara.

The Coatesville texters probably thought they would get away with their remarks, but other school employees discovered the messages and blew the whistle. The Chester County District Attorney's Office is investigating, and the school board is on the spot, as it should be.

After the texts were revealed by West Chester's Daily Local News, board members apparently held meetings about them in violation of the state's open-meetings law. They have also been playing games with public-records requests. And they are failing to fully answer questions from parents and the media, saying the District Attorney's Office won't let them.

It looks like a cover-up, which is the last thing this wounded community needs. Board members must disclose and confront the facts and stop trying to protect themselves.

The school board has ordered sensitivity training for staff and counseling for students, but that's not enough. While the board can't stamp out hateful thoughts and behavior, it has an obligation to protect children and employees from it at school. If board members are not up to that job, they should resign too.

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