Fairfax County’s and Alexandria’s public school systems say they will investigate the use of what Fairfax refers to as “racially charged language and racial slurs” at athletic events in recent weeks. Fairfax’s school system also says it plans a “stand-down” meeting for all teams and coaches.
Fairfax’s decision appears to stem from two events, the most recent being an incident that students and parents of junior-varsity football players at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria say happened at a game between T.C. and James W Robinson, Jr. Secondary School on April 5. Parents and students have said on social media and apps that a Robinson player or players used the N-word and spat on a player for the T.C. Titans—the team portrayed in the Disney movie Remember the Titans—near the end of the game, and that the Alexandria school’s coaches decided to take their players off the field before the game ended as a result.
T.C. Williams “coaches pulled players from the game early to protect students; there is no tolerance for this behavior,” Alexandria schools spokesperson Kathy Mimberg tells Washingtonian. “Coaches sent all of the players to the buses and informed the referees that our team would not be finishing the game.”
A parent of a T.C. player who was at the game Monday was on the sidelines when the incident occurred with around two minutes left at the end of the game. The parent heard a ruckus followed by agitation among the players on the field. The team’s coach helped one student, apparently the one who was allegedly the victim of the spitting and racist abuse, off the field as he said a Robinson player called him the N-word. The coaches spoke with the referees, this parent and others say, and after what appeared to be an unsatisfactory transaction, said something to the players along the lines of “You guys don’t need to put up with this, we’re going.”
Several parents say the PA announcer for the game appeared to be unaware of what prompted T.C. to leave the field and was saying that T.C. was quitting and he’d never seen anything like it; one T.C. approached the announcer, two people say, to tell him what was going on. Parents of team members say the T.C. coaches spoke to the players after they returned to Alexandria. “All I can say for the coaches is 100 percent full applause standing ovation,” one parent says. “They did not lose their cool. They removed the kids from a dangerous situation.”
In a memo to T.C. parents sent Wednesday, Alexandria Public Schools Superintendent Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr., says his system is working closely with Fairfax’s superintendent, Scott Brabrand, to get to the bottom of what happened. T.C. Principal Peter Balas sent a note to students Tuesday evening that tracks closely with Hutchings’s statement, saying T.C. officials have “talked with students and coaching staff who were involved or witnessed the incident and have also been in touch with athletics staff at the school of the opposing team. We are supporting students to ensure that they have an opportunity to share their account and they will be provided with resources from our student support team.”
The schools’ actions so far sound good, says Anna Jaeger, a parent of a player on the JV football team, “but I just don’t know if that’s enough.” She’d like to see the schools take more of what she describes as a restorative-justice approach to the incident, perhaps by bringing the players together face-to-face to discuss what happened. It’s important not to look at this incident as isolated: “I know it goes on,” she says, “and I hope that we can get enough parents or even grads to come forward to say this happened to me.”
A similar incident reportedly occurred when Arlington’s Wakefield High School played Fairfax’s Marshall High School on March 5. Subsequently, the Fairfax and Arlington school systems released a statement saying they are “working together to repair the harm done.”
Both Fairfax and Alexandria say the investigations will support larger efforts within their systems. “We recognize that we have much work to do in our schools and will continue to strive to promote equity, sportsmanship, respect, and fair play on and off the field,” says the statement from Fairfax County Public Schools. “The work that we have been doing in our school division on becoming an anti-racist school division means that we must confront these issues head-on and be unapologetic in addressing matters around racism and racial equity,” Balas wrote in his missive. “These events in our schools continue to shine a light on the importance of our antiracism work at ACPS and across the nation and the need for an open dialogue about how this impacts our students and their social, emotional and academic learning,” Hutchings wrote.
This story will be updated with more information. A child of one of the reporters on this story attends T.C. Williams.