By Jake Atnip
KINGSLEY — Kingsley Public Schools has suspended a student from athletic activity indefinitely and launched an investigation after the player was accused of sharing a racist social media post in a football group chat.
The post outlined physical and sexual violence against African Americans following a trip to the Muskegon area and the school was notified once the private SnapChat post hit Facebook on Wednesday.
Kingsley schools superintendent Keith Smith said the school’s athletic council — which includes the school’s principal, athletic director and head football coach Tim Wooer — is set to meet Tuesday evening to decide how to proceed with the matter.
“This is the most significant use of our social media policy for athletes that we’ve had,” Smith said. “I think this decision is going to be looked at as kind of a precedent moving forward and we want to make sure that we get it right.”
Smith said the school’s attorney approved action because the post was shared in a group chat made specifically for football players to communicate and it goes against the district’s athletic guidelines.
Wooer declined to comment when contacted by the Record-Eagle on Saturday, but released a letter he penned to parents and the community on Facebook on Friday after meeting with his team for an hour.
“The content of this shared message within our program represents the opposite of everything we stand for as a program,” Wooer said in his letter. “This behavior is NOT tolerated and WILL NOT be tolerated.”
Smith said this latest incident is different from the one that occurred in the Traverse City Area Public Schools system this spring. He said district officials know working with First Amendment privileges is a ”tricky” situation, but a student does not have a constitutional right to play sports like they do with attending school.
This gives the Kingsley athletic department more options when deciding what to do with the student and how to move forward with more education about racial issues.
Smith said only the student who shared the ”disgusting” post will be subject to discipline as no other members of the chat interacted or replied to the post. The student took responsibility immediately according to Smith and the school began the investigation Wednesday.
“We believe that education and accountability are key in these situations,” said Holly Bird, board member at E3 and co-executive director of Title Track. “I think it’s really important that the school, the coaches and the parents send a very clear message that this is unacceptable behavior, that it’s harmful behavior. And there needs to be accountability for that as well as guided education about what this is.”
Smith said he hopes the district can initiate a new program to educate students and athletes about racial topics because district officials “expect more.”
“There’s been a lot of situations within the past year and a half to where it has proven that we have a problem with racism in our area,” said Marshall Collins, a teacher and consultant with Northwest Education Services. “We need to address that yes, we do have a problem with racism in our area and we are going to try to educate more, move forward and put a stop to it.”
Wooer said in his letter that his staff has already begun conversations about racism and violence with the team and that he feels they have fallen short in those areas.
“It looks like they’re they’re handling it the right way,” Collins said. “They’re addressing it, they’re using it as a teachable moment and I think that’s the important part about it.”