Central student’s racist social media post roils Philly and suburbs

A social media post by a white student-athlete from Central High School that uses racial slurs to refer to a Black opponent sent tremors across the internet in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia's Central High School is visible, a red-brick building sitting on top of a green hill.

Philadelphia's Central High School. (Google Maps)

This article originally appeared on The Philadelphia Tribune.

A social media post by a white student-athlete from Central High School that uses racial slurs to refer to a Black opponent sent tremors across the internet in Philadelphia and the suburbs over the weekend.

The post targeted Cheltenham High School wrestler Isaiah Stehman after a match between him and Central’s Grigol Khochiashvili on Dec. 28, 2019 at the Ralph Wetzel Classic at Hatboro-Horsham High School. Khochiashvili, the top-ranked wrestler at 152 pounds in District 12, won 5-4.

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It shows Stehman crumpled on the mat after the match with a wrestler two sources confirmed is Khochiashvili walking toward the camera.

A caption reads, “dumb a — monkey deserved it.” Part of a song by Uncle Dave Macon called “Run, N—–, Run” was playing in the background.

The post was an Instagram Story, which disappears after 24 hours, so it is unclear when it was made. Another person took a screenshot of the Instagram Story 30 minutes after it was posted and shared it in a Tweet that has since been deleted. Sources could not confirm whether Khochiashvili was the creator of the Instagram Story.

The post and others first came to the attention of Central High School administrators last week. They declined to comment on the post in a letter from Central President Timothy J. McKenna on its website Friday.

McKenna’s letter says administrators saw multiple posts, but does not disclose how many, the nature of the posts, or the creator of the posts.

“On Friday morning, February 28, 2020, the CHS Administrative Team, CHS lead counselor, support staff from Learning Network 1 and student leaders met to discuss the incident and its negative impact on our school community,” the letter says. “The students expressed their outrage and are working with us to develop an action plan to make our school the culturally inclusive learning community that all students deserve.”

The action plan will include school assemblies about racism and racial bias, a professional development session for teachers where students will give their perspective on racial issues, school assemblies about social media use and expanding the English and history curriculums to include more diverse readings.

“Ensuring a safe and supportive school environment for all students and staff has long been a goal at Central High School. We have worked to address race specifically through various recent initiatives. Examples include last year’s implicit bias training for all staff and this year’s Teaching for Equity training based on the book Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain by Zaretta Hammond. However, incidents like last week’s remind us that we have more work to do as a community in this area. The CHS leadership team, with support of the District, is deeply committed to engaging in this work in a thoughtful and focused way,” McKenna wrote.

“The fact remains that the CHS Administrative Team and Faculty strongly condemn the use of any harassing language or acts related to race, religion, sex, gender, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, and/or personal appearance. We are committed to improving our school community for all.”

McKenna’s letter did not say whether the student who made the posts has been or will be disciplined.

The School District of Philadelphia did not mention discipline, either, when asked. SDP spokeswoman Monica Lewis said in a statement that “the school district in no way tolerates hateful language of any kind.”

Central High administrators posted their letter on Twitter on Friday, and got more than 200 responses by 6 p.m. Monday.

One tweet from user FaithWanza asked “What action was taken? The student shouldn’t be able to compete and should be expelled.”

Another response from user groovyroses said “‘CENTRAL HIGH SUPPORTS RACISTS’” is what that translates too.”

A spokesperson for the Cheltenham School District said “they are aware of the incident” and that as of Friday Stehman “was focusing on wrestling.”

This is not the first time a Cheltenham student has been the victim of racial harassment.

At a football game in Quakertown, Bucks County, in October 2017, the mostly white Quakertown students hurled racial slurs at Cheltenham’s cheerleaders. They called them the N-word, b—-es and whores. They yelled “Black lives don’t matter” and “don’t shoot me.” And when the Cheltenham students got on the bus to go home, Quakertown students pelted it with rocks.

Quakertown Community School District Superintendent Bill Harner, a graduate of Cheltenham, appeared at an assembly at his alma mater and apologized profusely. He said it was not the first time a racist incident had happened on school grounds in his tenure, and vowed to do something to stop it.

Black students make up the majority of the student body at Cheltenham High School. In the 2017-18 school year (the most recent data available), approximately 54.4% of Cheltenham students were Black and 30.6% were white, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

At Quakertown, roughly 2.3% of students are Black and 84% are white.

And at Central High School, roughly 23.8% of students are Black and 25% are white.

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