Investigation Into Racial Slurs Ends In Lessons For School District

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ATHENS — An Athens City Schools investigation has ended with confirmation that race played a part in an incident that led to the suspension of a black student.

Isaiah Butcher was suspended April 17 after a report of a fight with another student, who his parents say was a fellow member of the football team, according to previous reporting by WOUB.

He was suspended, despite telling school officials the fight was a result of racial slurs and provocations by a white student — who is not being named by WOUB because he is a minor, and family of the student have declined comment.

After the district conducted their investigation late last month, Superintendent Tom Gibbs said they found the incident to be “motivated, at least in part, by race.”

A letter obtained by WOUB said the suspension would be removed from Isaiah’s record, but the other student would receive discipline. The specific disciplinary action taken was not noted in the letter.

“(Butcher) was subjected to harassment that was in violation of the Athens City School District anti-discrimination policies,” the letter stated.

A video taken of the fight and obtained by WOUB shows a white male student exchanging words with Butcher before the student pushes Butcher. The student starts walking toward Butcher again, and Butcher pushes him away. The student then crouches and the two collide, before the video ends.

Isaiah’s father, David Butcher said his son was being called a “n**ger” and insulted before the video was taken, and the white student had been throwing things at him.

“Apparently this has been going on for a week or two…calling him a n**ger and telling him to ‘go back to his country,’” David said.

Butcher’s parents say he also showed school officials text messages from the other student offering to pay Butcher to change his story and saying the student was told to “f*** with” Butcher by other students. The suspension remained in place until a complaint was filed with the district, and Gibbs revoked the suspension pending the investigation.

The other student was suspended as well, according to David Butcher.

Though Gibbs could not speak specifically about the case because federal law prohibits the school district from releasing student names or personal information publicly, he told WOUB the district would be conducting a “needs assessment” with the help of the Ohio University College of Social Work. He also said focus groups would be convened to identify issues of implicit bias in the district.

“We’re talking about an issue that is not specific to the Athens City Schools, this is a societal concern that is much broader than just us or much broader than a single incident,” Gibbs said. “So, how do we use this as an impetus to have a bigger conversation about improving, not only as an organization, but also from a community perspective.”

The Butchers said they intend to participate in the focus groups.

The superintendent wants to have a plan in place by the end of the summer to extend training to coaches and teachers.


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