Officials at a high school in Maryland say they are investigating the origins of a video appearing on social media this week that depicts a student verbally bullying a classmate with special needs. The video, which is about a minute long and packed with racial slurs and profanity-laced outbursts, was air-dropped to several students and staff at Severna Park High School in Severna Park, Md., on Tuesday afternoon, according to the school’s principal. Later that day the principal sent a letter to parents, which, for many critics, served only to inflame the situation.
“As a school community, we must never condemn children,” principal Lindsay Abruzzo’s letter read in part. “However, I do condemn the actions in this video in the strongest possible terms. They are unacceptable anywhere, especially in a school setting where part of our mission as a collective community is to cultivate students who are kind, accepting, and inclusive. ... We are still attempting to identify the person who took the video and the person who airdropped it.”
The school district says Abruzzo followed proper protocol in this situation.
“This blew up on social media Thursday. This happened on Tuesday. Ms. Abruzzo sent out a note to the public immediately,” Bob Mosier, a spokesperson for the school district, told Yahoo News, saying federal law prevents him from commenting on the disciplinary actions for the student. “There is zero question that what happened is appalling. No student anywhere should be subjected to the statements that were hurled at this student. ... But I would also say to you that the number of students and staff that flocked the minute it was air-dropped was indicative that this was not OK and that they believe in upholding and uplifting fellow students. ... This is a battle that all of us need to wage."
In the video (trigger warning for language), reviewed by Yahoo News, a student appears to be playing a game on his cellphone when the special needs student approaches to ask a question. In response, the student playing the game launches into a nasty verbal tirade.
“Yo n***a, get the f*** off me I’m trying to play the game. F***ing n*****,” the student says, adding, “I’m going to beat the shit out of you after I win."
But it doesn’t stop there. After the two have a brief cordial interaction about the contents of a paper, the student playing the game hands back the paper and tells the special needs student to “leave!,” adding, “Yo, f*** out of here with your Black ass, cripple,” he said. “You f***ing cripple. ... Don’t ever speak back to me. I’m going to put you in an electric chair ... and shove dynamite up your ass.”
Both students in the video appear to be white, and a third unidentified person is filming. In Abruzzo’s letter, she said the special needs student was threatened and the school is offering support to the student and his family.
“We cannot and will not tolerate such actions and we will take aggressive and appropriate disciplinary action with regard to any student who engages in such activity,” the letter continued. “Put simply, we are better than this.”
But graduates of the school say that given its track record on incidents like this in the past, they doubt anything substantial will be done.
“Severna Park High School claims to have a zero tolerance policy, however it is never upheld and incidents like this get swept under the rug,” wrote Mindy Shifflett, who said she is a graduate of the school, in an online petition to get the bullying student expelled. “As a former student I witnessed and was a victim of the bullying and threats that come with going to this school. It truly saddens me to see nothing has changed in all of these years.”
Other alumni and concerned community members also claim the school has a history of problems that are often ignored. They say the situation has gotten so bad that the school has garnered the nickname “Suicide High.”
“The parents of that bully should really be ashamed! No, we can’t control everything our kids do, but that is LEARNED behavior,” another woman, who is Black, wrote in a Facebook post, adding that after being born and raised in Severna Park, which she says lacks diversity, she’s not surprised in the least by this latest incident. The woman told Yahoo News that she graduated from the high school in 2011. “There’s so much that wasn’t recorded and was brushed under the rug because Severna Park needs to keep their ‘perfect image,’” she wrote.
Located 22 miles south of Baltimore, Severna Park is home to about 39,000 residents, of whom 87% are non-Hispanic white, according to the latest census data.
Cover thumbnail photos: Via Twitter, Severna Park High School