By Terence Farrell
Now that a little time has passed and passions have cooled somewhat in the Coatesville Area School District (CASD) text message scandal, it is worthwhile to consider what went wrong, how healing can occur, and what each of us might do to foster an environment in which this type of behavior does not occur.
The destructive racist and sexist text messages attributed to two former CASD officials were damaging on so many levels to the students of the school district, to parents and to everyone in the Coatesville area. I believe it is incumbent upon all people of good conscience to express our shock, repulsion and sadness at the nature and boldness of the texts between the CASD superintendent and the athletics and activities director. We should all add our voices in opposition to such behavior, particularly by those in whom we have placed so much trust for the care, education, and upbringing of our children.
The damage these individuals have done to the students, parents, and everyone in the Coatesville area is immeasurable.
While the resignations have physically removed the offending officials from the school district, we must not allow this shameful episode to be put to rest too quickly. What happened must give us all pause. How could this have happened in 2013? Why were these messages deemed to be acceptable by those involved – and others -- in our community?
The sad fact is that this type of behavior, although exposed publicly, is unfortunately, not an isolated incident. These two individuals did not wake up one day and say, hey, wouldn’t it be a good idea to send a racist text to my friend. No, there must have been a tentative testing of the waters in person first, an acceptance of the attitude returned, and then an escalation of the dialog, ultimately to what has been revealed.
Why are such messages and communications deemed to be acceptable among some (so many!) in our culture? How far spread is this culture of acceptance? How do we change this culture? This is a question not easily answered as this country has been struggling with race relations since its inception.
Continuing education is part of the solution. We need effective education. The offering of rote classes won’t be enough to eliminate such conduct.
Besides serving as a Chester County Commissioner, I am also a member of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. The PHRC enforces Commonwealth laws that prohibit discrimination. We also have an educational component that will be offered to the Coatesville School District. PHRC staff members are available for formal training or brief presentations on topics.
Already, the PHRC’s chief counsel and education attorney have met with the Coatesville School Board to determine what support and training the community and schools need and to offer guidance and recommendations. This was at the Board’s invitation. The focus at this point is prevention and restoring damaged trust. The PHRC has a long history of similar work with other school districts and with its task force partners, which include a number of state, federal and private agencies. Stay tuned: A formal public statement will be issued when a complete action plan has been finalized.
But beyond this formal, institutionalized response, we can all take a stand on a personal level. The only thing necessary for evil to succeed is for good people to do or say nothing. We all, in our daily lives, must make clear that these types of remarks and content are not acceptable, no matter which ethnic culture is the target of the distasteful barbs. The next time someone pulls you into the corner to tell you a racist or sexist joke, or emails you an inappropriate cartoon, speak up loudly and clearly. Tell the person that you won’t participate in such inappropriate and disparaging behavior. Tell that person, loudly and clearly, “Stop it. This is wrong. I won’t be a party to it.” Be the change you want to see in the world. We can all point fingers at others when their wrongdoing is exposed, but we should not feel good about ourselves until we take these tiny steps to nip this kind of behavior and communication in the bud.
Hopefully, we can all move forward and use this sad incident to rebuild our culture into one of mutual respect. For the good of Coatesville, Chester County and the rest of our country, we need to work together and to appreciate and respect each other.
Terence Farrell is a Chester County Commissioner and member of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. He can be reached at Tfarrell@chesco.org.