Racist Bullying Raises Questions Over MHS Culture

MHS - Noose

Students at Malibu High School fashioned a noose out of rope and used it in a threatening manner toward an African American student for weeks before an administrator was notified last month, as confirmed by both MHS Principal Patrick Miller and the parents of the victim.

The incident involved students signed up for SharkTV, a film production class.

The parents agreed to speak to The Malibu Times on the condition of anonymity.

According to the student’s mother, a student shook the noose at the victim and said, “Come here, boy,” during one interaction.  

The student reported the threats to the MHS administration. The noose, which was hanging in the classroom, was immediately removed at that point. After several emails—involving several stakeholders such as the SMMUSD Board of Education members, Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Santa Monica/Venice branch regional director—Miller sent out a letter to the school community a week later.

In the letter, published in the Feb. 27 issue of The Malibu Times, he explained that, in addition to the creation of the noose, “We have also determined that other students used the noose at varying times. We know that many students in the classroom were aware of the noose and did not take actions to notify an adult on campus to have it removed or stop the behavior as it occurred, which is upsetting.

“Given the nature of the class,” Miller continued, “the film students work in multiple spaces and throughout campus and the students were engaging in this behavior when the teacher was not present.”

The website for the class, taught by Rachel Stowell, is currently unavailable. It was up as recently as Feb. 17.

“Kids will continue to taunt,” the mother explained. “I just cannot allow my son’s humanity to be undermined by hatred … It’s my responsibility to model for him how you react in situations like this. Unfortunately, it was difficult [initially] because we didn’t feel as supported as we should have been.” 

She called the situation “insensitive” in forcing her child to interact with the perpetrators with seemingly little to no repercussions. Her child stopped attending school on Feb. 24. 

As confirmed by school district spokesperson Gail Pinsker Tuesday afternoon, March 3, the investigation into the noose incident has been completed. Anyone with any additional information is asked to share it with Malibu High School’s administration.

“Students have been disciplined based on [California] Education Code and district policy,” she wrote in an email. “Students and parents involved have met with site leadership.”

While the district did not confirm specifics as to how many students were involved, the parent stated at least six students were involved, according to what she was told by personnel at the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station. 

The district also declined to share the severity of the discipline administered to the alleged perpetrators. However, as outlined in the 2019-20 Malibu High handbook, grounds for suspension and/or expulsion are based on Education Code Section 48900, and can include an instance in which a student “caused, attempted to cause, or threatened to cause physical injury to another person” as well as “committed an obscene act or engaged in habitual profanity or vulgarity.” California NAACP Chapter President Alice A. Huffman condemned the incident and called for the immediate suspension—and possible expulsion—of the perpetrators should the investigation find that the education code was violated, as detailed in a letter the victim’s family later shared with The Malibu Times.

In the local school district, schools generally utilize restorative justice practices to mediate conflict among students.

Restorative justice, as defined in the MHS handbook available on the school’s website, is “a process and philosophy” that brings those involved together to build and repair healthy relationships through discussion or other practices.

Along with group discussions with students involved, the district said it made changes to supervision and held class meetings throughout campus to educate students about the significance of a noose.

For the victim’s family, this is a start.

“I feel like I understand what they’re [administration] trying to accomplish,” the mother said, adding, “What they’re proposing is more of a fix over time as opposed to being an immediate fix.”

While she had many positive things to say about the Malibu community, she spoke of her shock and anger at seeing an outpouring of comments on social media forums defending the actions of the teacher and students involved. 

“It’s the sort of thing where people are in denial,” the victim’s father said. His mother added that her fellow parents “want to pretend like it’s not happening.

“I wish I could protect my kids,” she said, adding that, in the aftermath of the 2012 Trayvon Martin shooting, where a 17-year-old African American teen was shot and killed, she had to explain why her children couldn’t wear hoodies, or to speak in a certain manner when talking to a police officer.

“We have to prepare them,” she said.

In another conversation, the mother added, “Everyone that I talk to in our community that understands exactly what’s happening understands that this is a problem that’s been happening since elementary school.”

While the family decides what’s best for their son, she said she wants to help make a change in the school system for other kids.