High School Disputes Opponent's Racism Claims

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Orange County Register (California)


Aliso Niguel High School's administration worked Monday to quell a controversy over alleged racist and provocative signs and comments aimed at the Santa Ana High football team and its fans during Friday's game at Aliso Niguel High's on-campus stadium.

Santa Ana High principal Jeff Bishop stated in a Facebook post late Friday night after Aliso Niguel's 42-21 victory that he was proud of how Santa Ana's team and its coaches handled "the racist welcome the 'Saints' received as they walked into the stadium and read the posters referencing - Trump, 'We love White,' 'Build the Wall' and various other politically and racially charged statements." He added that the students were "disrespectful and out of control" during the game.

The controversy has attracted local and national media attention to both schools and has been a topic widely discussed on social media since Saturday morning.

Aliso Niguel principal Deni Christensen on Monday sent an email to Aliso Niguel parents about the matter, pushing back on some of what Bishop alleged, and she explained why Aliso Niguel's students were dressed in red, white and blue at the game and why the students chanted "USA ... USA" after Aliso Niguel scored its first touchdown, which had upset Bishop.

"They're chanting 'USA' like it's a game against another country, like it's against Germany or against Mexico," Bishop told the Register on Saturday afternoon.

Bishop said he told Christensen at halftime of Friday's game that " 'I don't understand the USA pride thing when you score. And if I hear it one more time, I am walking off the field with the team.' "

Santa Ana High's student population is more than 90 percent Hispanic. Aliso Niguel's student population is more than 50 percent white with a mixture of other racial and ethnic groups.

In her email Christensen explained that "Friday's football game was our 'red, white and blue' game, where students traditionally dress patriotically in USA colors for a home football game that falls in close proximity to September 11th. ... This type of game is intended as a patriotic celebration and is common in Orange County."

She also acknowledged that "Two signs were posted which were political in nature. One referenced former President Obama, and one referenced President Trump. When assistant principals and I arrived to the stadium before the game, we learned of the above potentially controversial signs and assistant principals removed the signs."

Bishop said in his Facebook post Friday that he felt several signs were racially insensitive, including "Build the Wall" and "We love White," and others commented on Facebook that they were also at the game and saw signs or heard comments with similar wording. As of Monday afternoon, the Register had not seen any photos from the game that showed those signs in the crowd or inside the stadium.

Bishop on Monday did not respond to requests seeking an update on what the school plans to do next about the situation or to comment on Aliso Niguel's email to parents.

Christensen's email added that in talking to Bishop during and after the game that " … (Bishop) felt that the entire atmosphere was inhospitable to his school and community ... I expressed sadness and regret that members of his community had in any way been hurt and again explained that the 'red, white, and blue' game was a patriotic observance in reference to 9/11 and in no way intended as an affront to Santa Ana High School. ... At no time did (Aliso Niguel administration) witness any overt racism, or any additional political signs other than a 'Trump 2020' satin banner that emerged briefly and was quickly removed from display."

Christensen's email concluded, "Going forward, I will be meeting with our student leaders and staff, and we will consider how we might have communicated more in advance about the purpose of our 'red, white and blue' game to avoid misunderstanding. However, I am deeply saddened that anyone could categorize our students or community as 'racist' and I have made that very clear. We have nothing but respect for Santa Ana High School, and all schools. ... I understand that our country is very divided right now and that this can understandably affect perceptions, and that we all need to work harder to develop greater understanding."

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September 11, 2018


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