A photo of six Arizona high school students wearing T-shirts that spelled out a racial slur has caused uproar across social media, and a petition to have them expelled has gained more than 29,000 signatures.
The Desert Vista High School students were wearing the shirts for a larger group photo, in which all the shirts spelled out “Best You’ve Ever Seen Class of 2016,” the Phoenix New Times reports. But the girls posed for another photo in smaller group, spelling out the slur.
The six girls were rumored to be suspended for five days, a claim that Tempe Union superintendent Kenneth Baca refuted. “There have been numerous reports about punishment and while we cannot give specifics about the discipline, we can assure you those reports are inaccurate,” Baca wrote in a statement posted on the district’s website. “We are appalled and disappointed at this behavior and it will not be tolerated. It is unacceptable for any racial slur to be used regardless of intent.”
A Change.org petition calling for more serious discipline for the teenagers and for the resignation of Desert Vista High School principal Christine Barela has gathered more than 29,000 signatures as of Sunday morning.
Phoenix city council member Sal DiCiccio wrote on Facebook that he had heard from the police department that the students were receiving threats. “We will be sending a community action officer to the school to monitor the situation and to talk to the girls and their families,” DiCiccio wrote.
Superintendent Baca also referenced threats in his letter. “Social media has made this an international news story which has led to the spewing of vicious and vulgar hatred toward not only the six teenagers involved in this incident, but also to Desert Vista’s student body and staff, and the entire Tempe Union High School District,” he said. “We are working with students, parents and staff, as well as community leaders and organizations, to heal and learn from this. A Desert Vista teacher referred to her students as ‘adults-in-training.’ It takes all of us to guide them.”
The incident is not the first example of racist social media posts by Arizona high school students. Last year, a Chandler High School student caused controversy when she posted a picture of her racist promposal on Twitter. In this incident, discipline for the students was also uncertain.