KOKOMO - A Kokomo High School staff member is being terminated following his involvement in a game of hangman that used a racial slur, an incident that also led to the suspension of the student who captured it on film.
In the video, which lasts just eight seconds, a student and Greg Ostapa, a paraprofessional at the high school, are seen playing the game hangman on a tablet. On the tablet, a racial slur is nearly spelled out and the student is seen smiling as the video is recorded.
Only one letter is missing in the six-letter slur targeting African-Americans shown on the electronic tablet.
The student who posted the video on Twitter, Siciley Cannon, said she was suspended following the post, which received hundreds of retweets and likes and dozens of comments.
Cannon said she initially shared the video on Snapchat and that several people captured it. Some shared it with administrators, she said, and Wednesday she was called to the office to discuss the incident.
She was informed Wednesday of the handbook’s policy stating that students cannot film other students or staff without their consent.
“I did not think I was going to get in trouble,” she said. “I would have never thought, ‘I’m about to get in trouble for this.’”
On Thursday, Cannon tweeted a link to a petition asking that her suspension be removed and expunged from her permanent record. The petition alleges Ostapa “invited two girls of African American descent to look at the screen…”
Cannon said Ostapa made it seem like it was OK for the other student to write the word, and he seemed to laugh it off. In a statement, school officials said Ostapa has been notified of his pending termination, which will likely be approved by school board members Monday.
“When he saw that I didn’t think it was funny, he hurried up and tried to erase it,” she said. “He just didn’t make it seem like what he was doing was wrong.” She tweeted that she did not find the incident funny.
According to the statement, provided by the Kokomo School Corporation, Cannon was disciplined because she violated the school handbook’s policy of not filming other students or school personnel without their consent.
Students can face disciplinary action for recording video in the school without consent, according to the KHS handbook.
“The specific discipline of this second student cannot be discussed,” noted KHS officials in a statement, referring to Cannon.
“In all cases, the disciplinary consequences are based on the number of times a policy has been violated and also may include the number of times the student has violated other school policies, such as skipping classes or being truant from school, for example.”
Notably, the petition asks that Cannon’s suspension be lifted and expunged from her permanent record, and that Ostapa and the administration publicly denounce what happened.
As of Thursday afternoon, the petition had over 100 signatures.
Additionally, the student involved in the game has been disciplined in accordance with school guidelines, according to the Kokomo School Corporation.
Tessa Vaughan, a parent of one of the KHS students who started the online petition, said Ostapa was not in school on Wednesday or Thursday, though she said she was not able to confirm if it was because of the incident.
“They did say the matter has been taken care of,” she said, prior to the school’s announcement of Ostapa’s termination. “But I did tell them that’s not enough. The students are very upset about it. ...They need to send a strong message.
"This was a grossly racist act, and it creates a threatening environment for the students, and they need to state that they have zero tolerance for this. This is an opportunity for the school to send a positive message to the students in the community. I just hope they take advantage of that.”
Dave Barnes, director of communications for the corporation, said in the statement “We want people to know that Kokomo School has zero tolerance for this sort of behavior; such actions will not be tolerated.”
Kokomo High School Principal Angela Blessing echoed Barnes’ remarks.
“Discrimination in any form in unconscionable and will not be tolerated at Kokomo High School. I am proud of our students and staff who work to create an inclusive and welcoming school environment at KHS We will continue our work to reinforce our expectations about mutual respect among our diverse student body.”
Cannon said she’s glad the paraprofessional is being terminated. She added that she’s received a strong showing of support from other students and teachers.