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Officials traded racist texts

by MICHAEL RUBINKAM Associated Press on September 24, 2013 10:30 AM

COATESVILLE — Two top administrators of a large southeastern Pennsylvania school district traded a series of racist and sexist text messages on their district phones, the school board confirmed Monday, seeking to contain the fallout by mandating sensitivity training for all district employees.

Coatesville Area School District Superintendent Richard Como and the high school’s athletic director, Jim Donato, resigned on Aug. 29 after they learned of the board’s intent to fire them over the “highly offensive” messages, according to a statement released by the district’s lawyer.

“The racist and sexist language expressed by these two men was sickening and obviously unacceptable,” school board President Neil Campbell said in the statement, released after the texts were obtained and published by The Daily Local News of West Chester.

The scandal has rocked Coatesville, a steel town 35 miles west of Philadelphia where nearly a third of the district’s students are black. Como and Donato are both white.

Campbell said the district’s internal investigation has not uncovered any evidence that other district employees were involved in offensive exchanges.

Como didn’t return a phone message seeking comment. Donato couldn’t be located.

Prosecutors in Chester County learned of the texts during an unrelated investigation into the school district, Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan told The Associated Press.

Hogan said that once he learned of the texts, he requested that the district turn over copies of the messages and the phones used to send them, and the district complied.

“The text messages that we reviewed were of a shockingly racist nature,” he said.

The Rev. Randall Harris, who leads a predominantly black congregation at Coatesville’s Tabernacle Baptist Church, said he’d met with Como on numerous occasions, and found him to be sincere and “absolutely not” racist. Harris said he was appalled and angered over the texts.

“We always had a good working relationship, but that’s been tainted,” Harris said.

The school board said it is working with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission to provide mandatory sensitivity training to board members, administrators, staff and faculty.

It said it is also asking the commission to review the school district’s diversity policy and code of conduct.

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