SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Students at a California high school have been suspended for suspected scrawling of racist graffiti and joining together in a white supremacy gesture while the senior class picture was being taken, school officials said Friday.
Soquel High School administrators decided late Wednesday to suspend about five students and ban them from the prom, Santa Cruz City Schools Superintendent Gary Bloom said.
The suspensions came at the end of a school year marred by several racist incidents that included swastika graffiti and students making Hitler salutes.
The suspended students stood together wearing white shirts and bandannas during a senior class photo session in a move Bloom said was clearly intended as a display of white supremacist sentiment. Officials believe each of the students, whom they did not name, is responsible for at least one other racist incident in recent months.
Officials did not believe the students had ties to the broader white power movement in the state but had been exposed to an overall upsurge in racist hate speech across the country, Bloom said.
"They don't understand the consequences and the implications of their actions and statements," he said. "We're not isolated here. And we're really committed to nipping it in the bud."
Soquel High Principal Ken Lawrence-Emanuel sent a letter Thursday to parents and members of this community of about 5,000 a few miles from Monterey Bay along the Central Coast.
In the letter, he said many students told their teachers they were angry about their school picture being ruined by the "white power kids."
"The students in attendance understood this was not about freedom to wear what you want," Lawrence-Emanuel wrote. "This was about having a school where everyone is protected from harassment."
Students organized a rally Thursday to encourage one another to take a stand against racism, he said.
Some teens at the rally told the Santa Cruz Sentinel they did not believe all the suspensions were meted out fairly, and that at least two of the teens were not tied to any racist movement.
"Some other kids are saying dumb things and throwing Nazi salutes," Irving Figueroa, 18, told the newspaper. But he said one of the suspended students was of Japanese descent and not in any way a white supremacist.
"It hurts me, it offends me, that they would even say that," Figueroa said.
Information from: Santa Cruz Sentinel, http://www.santacruzsentinel.com