Warning: The signage in the video above may be offensive. Viewer discretion is advised.
GARRETTSVILLE, Ohio (WJW) – An offensive, racially charged sign used by a high school student in Portage County to invite a date to homecoming is generating outrage within the Garfield Local School District and online.
Garfield Superintendent Ted Lysiak said he first became aware of the offensive invitation on Tuesday after a student brought it to the attention of the high school principal.
“We are so very proud of our student because I think that’s just evidence of our students realizing that this district has zero tolerance for any racially charged language that’s used by any of our students,” said Lysiak on Wednesday.
The sign reads “If I was Black I’d be picking cotton but I’m white so I’m picking you for HOCO.”
Lysiak says the student involved does not attend classes at Garfield High School but he lives in the district and participates in Garfield after school activities.
The girl he intended to invite does attend Garfield.
“Extreme disappointment. It clearly violates our student code of conduct. More importantly, it is in stark contrast of the core values that make this school and community great so we were really saddened by the behavior,” Lysiak said.
In a post to the community, Lysiak said:
“On Tuesday, September 20th, we were made aware of an extremely distasteful, disturbing and inappropriate picture posted on social media. This behavior clearly violates our student code of conduct and core values. Although this behavior was not on school property, we want all of our students, staff, administrators and community members to know that this type of behavior will neither be condoned nor tolerated.
“We are exhausting all efforts to ensure this behavior is dealt with swiftly and thoroughly. We have asked that the post be immediately taken down and local authorities are involved. The District is working with all relevant school systems. Most importantly, we will address the behavior with this student and their family.
“The James A. Garfield School District takes great pride in acting in a manner that reflects our Core Values of Respect, Kindness, Communication, Creativity, Integrity, Responsibility, Loyalty, Teamwork and Engagement. It is clear the mark was greatly missed in this instance and we will take the necessary steps to make sure this does not happen again.”
Garrettsville Police Chief Timothy Christopher said he was notified of the post by a school resource officer.
“We researched it. At that point, I reached out to our county prosecutor. I shared the post and the picture with him as well and talking with him, we are in agreement that, at this point, there is nothing. There’s no elements of a crime that have been committed,” said Christopher.
While the wording of the sign is racial and offensive, it is not original.
FOX 8 discovered that it is copied word-for-word from similar invitations that have generated outrage in Pennsylvania, Florida, Kansas, Chicago Illinois and beyond.
The police chief does not discount the thought that the sign could be another extremely offensive online effort to generate views with its shock value.
While Lysiak would not discuss specifics of what he views as an appropriate discipline for the student involved, he did confirm that the student would not be attending homecoming.
“It is very complex but we will handle the discipline as appropriate as is defined by our handbook and our policies here at the school,” said Lysiak. “You mentioned things going viral. Kindness can go viral. There are lots of ways to go viral and I would encourage kids to go viral with kindness and respect, not racism.”