By Sue Botos
Rocky River School Superintendent Michael Shoaf and high school Principal Debra Bernard have spoken with their counterparts in Shaker Heights regarding offensive Twitter posts targeting a Shaker Heights High School student by two Rocky River students.
However, administrators are not elaborating on the incident publicly, preferring to handle it privately, with the families involved. In the alleged tweets, two white student athletes used racial slurs while referring to a black Shaker student during the OHSAA state semifinal hockey game between Shaker and River on March 8 in Columbus.
“We will definitely find out more. Certainly we are sorry it happened, and we will address this with the students and their families,” Shoaf told West Life shortly after the incident. He said he was made aware of the tweets, which were quickly removed, after receiving an e-mail from an unidentified “gentleman.” Because the line between what is public and what is private becomes blurred on social media, Shoaf said that student accounts are not routinely monitored. “But when something becomes an issue, then we will (monitor),” he stated.
It’s uncertain what prompted the Twitter attack by the two Rocky River students, one of whom plays football, the other basketball, on the Shaker student who was attending the hockey game in support of his team. It’s also not known whether the students knew each other.
Rocky River athletic director Mark Wagner did not comment on the incident, referring questions to Shoaf.
Shoaf said that his phone conversation with Shaker Superintendent Mark Freeman was “productive,” but he offered no details. The Twitter incident was also not mentioned on the school’s website.
Peggy Caldwell, director of communications for the Shaker Heights Schools, told West Life that Shoaf and Freeman knew each other well through professional networks. “They had a really good conversation. Dr. Freeman, knowing him (Shoaf) as he does, knows proper action will be taken,” she stated, adding, “We know these comments made by these two young men are not representative of Rocky River.” She said she was “unaware of any longstanding animosity” between Rocky River and Shaker students when it came to athletics competitions.
Caldwell added that one or both of the Rocky River students reportedly came to Shaker Heights High and apologized personally to the student they had insulted. “To face the person you’ve hurt is instructive,” she stated.
“The hope is, if anything, that kids will think before they hit ‘Send,’” she stated.
Shoaf neither confirmed nor denied the meeting taking place between the students.
He urged parents, students and anyone observing an act of bullying such as this to report it on the Safe School Helpline at 1-800-418-6423, ext. 359, or by visiting www.safeschoolhelpline.com.