Investigation ongoing as more information arises
The North Mason School District is investigating alleged racist behavior during and after a volleyball game against Bremerton on Oct. 18 in Belfair.
The allegations were against North Mason students and parents. According to a news release, allegations have been made about a group of North Mason students and the Bremerton volleyball team and an incident that involved racial harassment and intimidation.
“This investigation has been difficult for my athletic director (Ray Bonnell) because of social media,” North Mason School District superintendent Dana Rosenbach told the Journal. “Every additional statement, he is investigating. He’s going over all of this, including security film, to see if he can substantiate anything that’s been said. It has been time consuming. We were hoping to collaborate with Bremerton, but that has been difficult because of how elevated communities are getting and social media right now. We will try to work with our partners. We’re taking it extremely seriously. This is very important to us and we want an inclusive environment free of discrimination and racism. This is a big deal to us, and we want to get it right. This has been very frustrating. We will be heartbroken if we find out our students engaged in this behavior, our parents did, and we are conducting a thorough investigation.”
Rosenbach said they have talked with the Mason County Sheriff’s Office, but it is currently an internal investigation. She said the incident took place on the steps outside leading up to the school as Bremerton was preparing to leave.
“We keep thinking we’re done and then someone publishes another statement, and we have to look to see if that is true,” Rosenbach said. “We are meeting with some people tomorrow (Oct. 26) and hope it will be completed before then. It’s heartbreaking, it saddens us. We want to get it right and we want to make sure things alleged don’t happen in any of our buildings.”
The Bremerton High School leadership team released a statement Oct. 21, stating they are “deeply saddened to share that an incident of racial harassment and intimidation occurred at a volleyball game at North Mason High School.”
“While the investigation is ongoing, we want our Bremerton community to know that we are committed to ensuring that barriers of bias and inequity are addressed and eliminated so that all of our students and families can be seen, their voices heard, and action taken,” the statement reads. “When our students experience trauma at a school event, we are responsible and accountable for ensuring appropriate measures are taken to address the harm that was caused. At the core of our beliefs is the ongoing work of creating and sustaining a community that is inclusive, responsive, and supportive. We are grateful to our students, families, and community for partnering with us as we work collaboratively to address incidents of racism.”
Shelton-Mason County Journal editor Justin Johnson was in Belfair covering the match for the newspaper and says he didn’t notice anything while there.
“I moved around the gym a little bit focusing on taking photos for the newspaper, but I didn’t see or hear anything that felt racist or intimidating,” Johnson said. “I am severely deaf and in a noisy gym environment like that it’s pretty difficult for me to make out specific words sometimes. There were only about 12-15 students there and I was sitting within a couple of feet of them for most of the match. I moved to the bench side of the gym during the final set for a different angle to take photos from. After hearing about the incident, I went back and looked through my photos from that final set to see if I could see anyone yelling at the Bremerton kids and there was nothing obvious.”
Johnson said he arrived about 30 minutes before the match started and stayed throughout, leaving as North Mason’s players were putting away the nets and chairs.