Social media lit up Wednesday morning and throughout the afternoon with an image of five Creston teenagers donning Ku Klux Klan-reminiscent hoods, holding a rifle with a scope and a Confederate flag while standing around a burning cross.
“In that picture were Creston High School students. We learned about it at 8 o’clock, we took immediate disciplinary action and that is ongoing,” Creston Community High School Principal Bill Messerole said.
“We have to deal with it,” Messerole said. “We’ve got to make sure it never happens again. We’ve got to work with kids and educate them.”
Messerole issued no comment to questions of the students’ discipline.
“I think time will show what repercussions were for this picture,” Messerole said.
The issue came to a front Wednesday morning when Creston native Trey Cheers shared an image on Twitter that showed the five individuals from a phone screenshot.
While multiple locals had already taken to social media to decry racism before Cheers’ post, his tweet blew up, and was quickly picked up by multiple outlets around the state and beyond.
Code of Conduct
Creston Community School District’s Student Code of Conduct includes the following passages pertaining to the issues at hand.
— “Possession, use or threatening to use any instrument that is generally considered a weapon, an instrument that is normally not considered a weapon as a weapon, an imitation weapon or an explosive.”
— “Conduct which discriminates against others based upon an individual’s sex, race, national origin, religion or disability.”
The Anti-Bullying and Anti-Harassment Policy under the Code of Conduct reads, in part:
“The Board prohibits harassment, bullying, hazing, or any other victimization, of students, based on any of the following actual or perceived traits or characteristics, including but not limited to, age, color, creed, national origin, race, religion, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical attributes, physical or mental ability or disability, ancestry, political party preference, political belief, socioeconomic status, or familial status. Harassment against employees based upon race, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age or disability is also prohibited.”
Such harassment or bullying is prohibited under electronic means, which may be applicable to the current situation given that the image was shared over social media.
“...Any communication involving the transmission of information by wire, radio, optical cable, electromagnetic, or other similar means. ‘Electronic’ includes but is not limited to communication via electronic mail, internet-based communications, pager service, cell phones, electronic text messaging or similar technologies.”
The First Amendment protects certain speech.
Those pictured were not on school ground, and expressive speech is prevailingly protected speech if it does not explicitly target someone.
“The school district’s going to have an issue,” Drake University Constitutional Law Professor Mark Kende said in a story written by Linh Ta of the Des Moines Register. “The issue is complicated by the fact that the school is reaching beyond it’s typical school orders to penalize them.”
Law enforcement was not involved in the situation as of Thursday morning.
The News Advertiser confirmed reports circulating on social media that each of the five players were Panther football players. Each has been removed from the team, per head coach Brian Morrison.
“They’re no longer going to be part of the program. That’s a fact,” Morrison said Wednesday afternoon.
“You tell the kids that everything they do in the community is a reflection of our district, our community and our football program,” Morrison said. “This is an instance where it’s a bad reflection. That’s where I’m having a tough time wrapping my mind around it.”
The football coaches had not had time to speak with the team as of Tuesday afternoon, when the News Advertiser spoke with Messerole and Morrison, but the Morrison noted the team would be instructed to speak with their parents about the issue.
“This is more important than games Friday night,” Morrison said. “This is talking to parents about, not just the right and wrong things to do but about lifelong decisions trying to be a good person.”
Creston/O-M senior lineman Tucker Flynn took to Twitter to make the following statement:
“The five individuals that were involved in the picture were clearly in the wrong and they will face the consequences eventually. But I can promise everyone that as a whole our football team and community aren’t about that. The actions made by a small group really shouldn’t represent the entire football team and community. I’m proud to be apart (sic) of what this team is actually about and it’s sad to see something like this ruin a rich tradition we carry.”
No word had been handed down as of press time about punishment.