Arizona students, school officials under fire over photo of shirts spelling out racial slur

Posted at 10:09 AM, Jan 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-24 10:09:02-05

PHOENIX — A petition is calling for the expulsion of six Phoenix-area high school students and the firing of their principal after the girls apparently wore shirts that spelled out a racial slur.

The photo, showing the six Desert Vista High School teens smiling while their shirts spell out “N-I-*-*-E-R”, went viral on Friday after it was posted on social media accounts.

According to ABC15, the lettered shirts were part of a larger message for a senior class photo. Another picture shows the senior class spelling out “BEST*YOU’VE*EVER*SEEN*CLASS*OF*2016”.

Tempe Union Superintendent Kenneth Baca said in a statement Friday that the actions “will not be tolerated” and that “disciplinary action will be taken.”

“It is unacceptable for any racial slur to be used regardless of intent. We need to understand that words matter. I can assure you the appropriate disciplinary action will be taken,” Baca said in the statement.

In the same statement sent out by the Tempe Union High School District, Desert Vista High School’s principal Christine Barela sent a message to the families of students at the school:

“Dear Desert Vista Families,

We want to let you know we share your outrage and disappointment over the actions of a handful of our students today.

We want to make it crystal clear those actions are unacceptable and will not be tolerated at Desert Vista. Those actions do not represent who we are as a campus.

We can assure you we will discipline these students in accordance with district policy and our student handbook. While we don’t discuss individual discipline, we can tell you that in addition, the obvious need for sensitivity training will be addressed.

As a precaution, Phoenix Police will be increasing security at and around Desert Vista.”

Student groups and Desert Vista High School have taken to social media to say that the girls’ actions don’t represent the school. The school’s Black Student Union tweeted out a message with the hashtag #thunderstrong.

The petition, which, as of 5:40 p.m., has over 19,000 signatures, states that the possible five-day suspension isn’t enough of a punishment and that administration seems to be treating the incident as a “harmless prank.”