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Investigation shows Camas students directed ‘some sort of inappropriate language’ toward Benson girls basketball players

Portland coach, players said Camas students hurled 'N-word' during Dec. 10 game; independent investigator found it was 'not possible to reach a definitive conclusion' on racial slurs

An independent investigator concluded this week that Camas High School students likely directed “some sort of inappropriate language” toward members of a visiting Portland basketball team in December 2021, but added it is “not possible to reach a definitive conclusion that (Camas students used) racial slurs.”

The investigation began in mid-December, after Eric Knox, coach of the Benson High School girls basketball team and the founder and executive director of the Portland nonprofit HOLLA, lodged an official complaint with the Camas School District, alleging that students seated in the Camas High School student section had directed racial slurs, including the “N-word” toward his Benson players.

“During the (junior varsity) game, my varsity players, who sat next to the Camas student section, expressed to me that the student section had hurled racial slurs to and about my Benson players, specifically the ‘N-word,’” Knox wrote in his complaint. “I assured them that I had their back and that, unfortunately, racism is a fact and reality for us, and that they will have to navigate this the rest of their lives.”

Knox said his players continued to hear racial slurs coming from students in the Camas section throughout the Dec. 10 game at Camas High School.

“Additionally, Benson parents came to me and said they heard people in the Camas student section using very derogatory language about our players and felt it created a very hostile environment,” Knox wrote in his complaint. “By the second half, I had heard the same thing from enough players that I finally had to take action, so I walked right on to the court at the next dead ball, toward the student section, saying, ‘We are not going to do this anymore.’ The referees intercepted me, and I alerted them to what I had been hearing from my players and that I would not tolerate the blatant racist language directed toward our girls, and if the referees did not get it under control, we would not finish the game.”

The referees assured Knox they would not tolerate that type of behavior, and the game continued.

“I huddled with my girls, and we agreed to play through the hostility,” Knox wrote. “We won the game by eight points.”

“The Camas players were great; none of my players or parents heard or felt anything hostile or racial from them, it appeared to be limited to the student section in the stands,” Knox added.

Writing to Camas school administrators and elected school board officials, Knox said he was writing “as a Black father, husband, public school coach, community and nonprofit leader,” to tell Camas school leaders they needed to address the alleged behavior of Camas students.

“Based on my team’s experience in your gym … clearly you have a lot more work to do around fundamental principles of diversity, equity and inclusion,” Knox wrote. “My team is solely comprised of young women of color. They deserve to be treated with respect and feel safe no matter what gym they play in. The core of this complaint is a question: ‘What are you going to do to ensure that Camas High School will be a safe environment for the next team of non-white students that plays in your gym?’”
On Tuesday, Jan. 25, the Camas School District shared the results of an independent investigation conducted by Gay Selby, an administrator consultant for the Educational Service District (ESD) 112.

Selby reviewed videos of the Dec. 10 basketball game and conducted 50 face-to-face interviews, including interviews with 28 Camas High students, four Camas cheerleaders, three Camas basketball players, two Benson basketball players, coaches from Camas and Benson, Camas High administrators and athletic staff, and referees present at the Dec. 10 game.

In the end, Selby said no one associated with Camas High School recalled hearing racial slurs or seeing inappropriate gestures from the Camas student section during the Dec. 10 game.

“Camas High School personnel in attendance at the (game), located in positions where they would likely hear any racial slurs or inappropriate language or gestures coming from the student section, stated they did not hear or see anything inappropriate,” Selby noted in the investigation findings.

When Selby asked Camas High students if they had noticed anything unusual about the Dec. 10 game, several students noted that Benson players had taken a knee during the National Anthem – a gesture that represents a global movement against racial oppression – and said they were surprised when they saw coach Knox cross the court toward the student section.

Selby said the Benson players they interviewed reiterated what they’d told their coach – that they heard people in the Camas student section using the “N-word” when Benson players walked into the gymnasium and crossed in front of the student section.

“They said the first half of the game they heard a lot of ‘trash talk’ coming from the student section, but in the second half they heard the ‘N-word’ coming again from the student section,” Selby said of the Benson players. “They said it seemed to be coming from the front-center, and that it was a male voice. They believe it came from the same person. They stated these were the only times they heard the ‘N-word.’”

In a letter sent to the Camas school community, Camas School District Interim Superintendent Doug Hood noted that Selby’s investigation also stated that “several students alluded to occasionally hearing racial slurs (and) comments among students around the (Camas High School) campus.”
“Each and every person deserves the right to exist, learn and thrive in our community,” Hood said. “We will continue to support our students in discussion and learning from what they are seeing and experiencing.”

The district has established a set of “next steps,” including having continued conversations with Benson players, coaches and administrators, as well as Camas students of color “desiring restorative connection and support;” educating staff and student leaders in creating anti-racist and anti-biased environments; updating protocols for administrators, athletic staff and students; and creating partnerships with NAACP chapters in Portland and Vancouver, student groups such as the Black Student Union, equity leaders in neighboring school districts and a restorative justice facilitator.

“The findings from the investigation further highlight the importance of our district’s commitment to seeing and serving each student, including those who visit from outside Camas,” the Camas School Board said in a joint statement released Tuesday, Jan. 25. “While the investigation did not identify individuals responsible, the conclusion that something likely happened reinforces the need to emphasize sportsmanship, decorum, and respect for all within our schools. We reiterate that racism, bullying, and harassment of any kind or scope are not tolerated in our schools.”

The Camas School Board on Tuesday also apologized to the Benson High girls basketball players, coach Knox and the entire community, saying: “As a school board and district, we value each and every student, family, and staff member and are committed to creating an equitable and anti-racist system that honors and elevates all … We are committed to learning from this situation and implementing the steps outlined (in Selby’s report).”