Two South Orange County schools are dealing with the fallout over two separate controversies – one stemming from racist remarks against a student and another from a student clash over sexual orientation.
Racist remarks against a Black student at a basketball game last Friday spilled over into the community – and even an Irvine City Council meeting this week.
And student arguments over the Pride flag took place last Thursday and Friday in Mission Viejo. There was also a student fight at the same school Monday, but it’s unclear if it’s related to the Pride debate.
It comes as school districts throughout OC debate ethnic studies and grapple how to best teach history by including stories from minorities and other marginalized groups, like the LGBTQ community.
The controversies also come on the heels of increased hate crimes and incidents.
The Orange County Human Relations Commission’s most recent annual report showed a 35% increase in reported hate crimes and 69% increase in reported hate incidents from 2019 to 2020.
Racist Insults Hurled at an Irvine High School Student
Makai Brown, a Black senior at Portola High School in Irvine, was playing at an away game in Laguna Hills when he started getting heckled by the crowd.
In multiple videos, cries such as “Chain him up!,” “Who let him off the chain?” and “He’s a monkey!” were repeatedly yelled at Brown by a student in the stands whenever he had the ball.
Alexa Becerra, another student at Portola on the cheerleading team, told the Portola Pilot, the school newspaper, that other students made racist comments to her as well.
“I’m Hispanic and Black … they were just calling me the n-word and calling me a beaner,” Becerra said, according to the Pilot’s instagram page.
The video with the racist comments first surfaced when Sabrina Brown, Makai’s mother, shared it on her Instagram page on Tuesday, where it was viewed well over 100,000 times in under 24 hours.
Sabrina Brown also said her son was verbally abused Friday night by Laguna Hills Head Coach, David Yates, and that the assistant coach challenged her husband to “meet him outside in the parking lot after the game,” in her comments on Instagram.
“(My husband’s) verbal response resulted in him being escorted out of the game,” Brown wrote. “Needless to say, our family is up in arms.”
Yates’ only comments on the issue have come via Twitter, where he condemned the student who hurled racist insults as “shameful,” and said it would not be condoned.
He also denied any misconduct of his own.
“Not accurate,” Yates wrote on Twitter in response to questions about his role. “At some point very soon, all facts *will* be made known. The outrage is understandable *and* shared.”
Yates did not respond to a request for comment from Voice of OC.
So far, the only official statement came from the office of Saddleback Valley Superintendent Crystal Turner on Tuesday, titled “Incident at LHHS.”
“As you may be aware, an unacceptable incident occurred at Laguna Hills High School (LHHS) during the basketball game between LHHS and Portola High School,” Turner wrote in the letter to students, parents and staff.
Turner said the student had received “appropriate consequences and discipline,” and added that “appropriate personnel actions, while required to remain confidential, have taken place.”
Saddleback Valley district officials did not respond to a request for comment from Voice of OC.
Irvine City Council members publicly addressed the situation at their Tuesday meeting.
“When someone comes after one of us we’re going to defend that person with all the force of Irvine,” Kuo said from the dais. “I don’t mean to make light of this, but I was watching the Blind Side the other night – there’s a scene where Sandra Bullock turns to a man and says ‘Zip it or I’ll zip it for you.”
“Tell anyone who’s going to conduct themselves in such a disgusting … way you turn around and tell them you zip it or I’m going to come zip it for you.”
Sabrina Brown spoke at the meeting, alongside other parents who share their experience at the game.
“This isn’t the first time this has happened, it’s just the first time it was caught on camera,” said a commenter who identified herself as Heather. “There is more toxic bullying, racist behaviors stemming from the toxic environment by a verbally abusive head coach David Yates, and the leadership at Laguna Hills High School who did nothing to stop it.”
Mayor Farrah Khan called out the city of Laguna Hills and the Saddleback Valley Unified School District, asking for a letter to the city council explaining what they would do to address what happened.
“Fix yourselves,” Khan said.
In a Wednesday news release, Khan called on the district to conduct an investigation into the school’s sports culture, saying she’d received multiple complaints alleging similar controversies at the Laguna Hills High School.
It’s unclear if Laguna Hills City Council members knew about the situation as nobody on the dais brought it up during their Tuesday meeting.
Student Arguments Over Sexual Orientation in Mission Viejo
Tensions were high at Fred Newhart Middle School in Mission Viejo last Thursday and Friday during lunch break.
Two students stood on lunch tables and waved rainbow pride flags as other students stood on surrounding tables, waving crosses, shouting “You shall seek forgiveness!” and reading Bible verses to the students in videos posted to Instagram.
“Although there were unsubstantiated rumors of possible violence, there was no violence toward any student,” said Principal Judith Murphine in a letter to Newhart families on Saturday.
On Monday after school, a fight broke out between a Newhart student and another student from a different school as classes ended.
A video shows the student who was repeatedly punched stood next to another student wearing a pride flag draped over their back.
“Unfortunately, at the end of the day today, a student from another campus came to our school and engaged in an altercation with one of our students,” reads another letter from Murphine sent Monday evening.
It remains unclear if the student was beaten up over the LGBTQ demonstration, and Murphine did not say if the two were connected in her letter, only pledging that no violence occurred during the Thursday and Friday demonstration.
Now, the students are barred from bringing nearly all flags – including the Pride flag – to school.
“Flags are not allowed on a school campus except for the U.S. flag inside classrooms, as well as materials that incite major disruptions are not allowed,” Murphine said in a video message to the student body on Monday. “Students are allowed to wear buttons, badges and clothing.”
The message did not address the crosses brought by students, but said any materials “that incite major disruptions” would be confiscated.
Kasey Russell, a Newhart parent and substitute teacher at the school, said the issue has been building since the beginning of last week and it isn’t over.
“The situation makes me feel uneasy,” Russell said. “I find myself driving by the school to see how many sherrif’s cars are out there. It makes me sad and frustrated.”
Russell also claims that school officials took students’ phones to erase videos of the demonstration incidents, along with confiscating Bibles and flags.
“Some kids came to school with Bibles and they had their Bibles taken away,” Russell said. “It continues every day. It’s out of control.”
The Capistrano Unified School District, which represents Newhart, did not respond to requests for comment from Voice of OC Wednesday afternoon.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC News Intern. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.
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