School Incident Tests Petaluma's Tolerance, Opens Door to Conversation

Chants and a mean sign aimed at Latino students during a PHS basketball game prompt a discussion about race, discrimination in Petaluma. Is this an isolated incident or does it point to entrenched hatred of foreigners, minorities in our community?


Is Petaluma the accepting and open-minded town we like to think it is?

An incident in which Hispanic basketball players from Santa Rosa were taunted by Petaluma High School students during a game earlier this month has prompted a conversation about discrimination and racism.

On February 1, PHS students attending the home game began chanting “USA! USA!.” Another student held up a sign that read “Dirty Sanchez,” aimed at Angel Sanchez, a Latino basketball player from Elsie Allen High School in Santa Rosa, according to a story in Thursday’s Argus Courier.

Petaluma High School Principal David Stirrat was at the game, but did not stop the chanting, something he now says he regrets.

“It’s subjective what patriotism is…it takes a bit of time to make that mental leap,” he wrote in an email to PHS parents, quoted in the paper. “Personally I regret not stopping the chanting. In my retrospection, I should have guided the students that evening.”

Elsie Allen Principal Mary Gail Stablein said she was shocked and disappointed by the behavior, but proud the Santa Rosa students did not react to the provocation, according to the story.

PHS students have written to Elsie Allen High School apologizing for the incident and the school last week held discussion about racism and discrimination in the society.

To read the full story, click here.

What do you think? Was this an isolated incident or indicative of attitudes prevalent in our community? What can be done to correct it? Are you a student or parent with a child attending a local school? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Michael Scotto February 14, 2013 at 08:21 PM
Petaluma is a great place to live. There is always someone that's going to act like a moron. I think this town is extremely tolerant. I wish there were no bad apples,but.... there is always one.
mikeg55 February 14, 2013 at 09:04 PM
Well, Petaluma is tolerant now. Growing up in the 80's and not being 100% white (mixed race) in Petaluma had its challenges. I think Petaluma had no choice but to change (for the better) with the influx of hispanics. But I've still seen and experienced racism several times in the past few years, usually by white teenagers.
boethius February 14, 2013 at 09:15 PM
This is how insane and ultimately destructive political correctness is: Chanting "USA" in the USA to an American citizen by American citizens is perceived as "racist" because of a perceived slight to his national origin. The principal should have stood his ground however I understand he is in the unfortunate position where his tacit acceptance of good-natured ribbing could be punished for not properly suppressing non-PC compliant "hate speech." Yep, that's right chanting "USA" has been deemed suppressive, oppressive hate speech. He has to answer to an almost unimaginable conflagration of cognitive dissonance: the ACLU and the CTA, not to mention scores of tenured staff who will sit him down and give him a liberal tongue-lashing for not falling into the narrative lockstep. I am sure his substantial salary is not enough to contend with THAT apoplectic PC madness. The real irony here is that the chanters weren't booted out for the sign, which denotes a disgusting sexual practice.
SP February 15, 2013 at 05:19 AM
I think the chant is perfectly acceptable. David is a fine man and being put in that kind of position is awkward at best. This is the United States of America after all! The sign on the other hand has got to go. As for the racism in town, I find it intolerable. I do not have kids in the high school grades yet, but I can imagine that it does exist. It likely exists in the Jr High and elementary school at some level. But having lived in other parts of the United States I can tell you Petaluma is a fantastic place to live and it's incredibly open-minded. I think that there is a way to talk to our kids to work on getting rid of ignorance. At the same, time being too politically correct is dangerous and can cause us to lean too far the other way.
Concerned Citizen February 15, 2013 at 06:47 PM
Did you not even understand the context in which the PHS kids were chanting USA in the first place? Did you miss the part where the Elsie Allen team is mostly comprised of Latino Players, so USA was being chanted solely because the PHS students were attempting to insinuate that their opponents are NOT us citizens? At the Olympics, American's chant USA because they are rooting for their COUNTRY. Thats fine. But one USA team versus another? Give me a break. This has absolutely ZERO to do with the ACLU, and everything to do with PHS kids acting ugly.
Concerned Citizen February 15, 2013 at 06:54 PM
And for you, this article said nothing about Petaluma being a bad place to live or whatever. It's about High School kids attempting to demean other high school students. And yes, the PHS principal is probably a good man (I don't personally know him so I can't say one way or another), but that he actually admitted that he made a mistake is an indication of the what really happened in the gym. Political correctness? Bull. Even the principal admitted as much. To defend anything else is against stated facts.
Native74 February 15, 2013 at 08:12 PM
Sadly I too think this is what overdone politcal correctness has landed us. When I was in high school athletics we never chanted this type of hate speech and I don't recall an incident when any of my older siblings had issues either. Back then the chanting was to pick up the slack or bring it on to beat the other team not slander. Yikes have times changed in the last two decades...
The Fool February 15, 2013 at 09:23 PM
Why or how does being "politically correct" equal being bad? To me, being politically correct is simply respecting all people which the PHS students in question did not do. It isn't a surprise that racism enters into the picture. Just looking at the comments on the Patch, it is not uncommon to see someone post a question about a person's legal status in any article about crime that involves someone with a Latino surname. Not taking the sort of "under the radar" language and actions seriously and immediately isn't avoiding being politically correct. It allows for, and contributes to, a sense of intolerance. Left unaddressed, what's next, swastikas graffiti'd on private business? White Power slogans appearing? Already happened over the last few years. The principal was correct in apologizing (and how rare a public official owes up to it, kudos!). For the various naysayers, you remind me of the stop sign school of traffic safety (only put one in when there is an accident). Why wait for more? Blaming a concession to being P.C. as the issue is simply denying the present reality. Few would claim to be overtly racist. However, when we, as a community, fail to take it head on, even if it is subtly insinuated, we are opening the door to something far, far uglier than a few obnoxious kids.
Native74 February 15, 2013 at 10:48 PM
I completely agree that the principal was correct in apologizing and something should have been said during the game. However, I don't completely agree that the 'PC' stance can't be part to blame. Kids are regularly being told what is socially acceptable or not acceptable and it can change from one day to the next to the point that is has the opposite affect. I'm sure what we used to chant might scandalize some people today and yet what I've heard at recent games is more distressing and I'm not that old yet. What happened to just chanting 'Trojans beat the Lobos!' or vice versa? Are they not allowed to say things like that anymore since it's not correct to want your team to win or even call out the name of your mascot? Kids will get creative when not allowed to say other things during a game. I'm definitely not standing up for what this group of kids were saying (now the sign was just wrong, but not racist). I'm still stunned and yet I want to try and understand where it came from as well and fix it. We would have been expelled in the 80's and 90's or in the least suspended.
Concerned Citizen February 16, 2013 at 12:04 AM
Very well stated.
SP February 16, 2013 at 04:56 PM
Angelo, read the very first post...I was supporting that statement. Now that you realize you typed your respone a bit hastily lets go on. I do personally know the principal and he is a great guy. I believe we agree that any racism is intolerable - let's stick to and agree on that fact. I don't find chanting "USA USA" IN THE USA racist! It is certainly poor form and the PHS kids need to realize the Elsie kids are just as much a part of the USA. In fact, it would have been classic to have the Elsie fans start chanting along. If those high school kids had ill intent it could have been much worse.
Concerned Citizen February 16, 2013 at 06:01 PM
Please! You were "supporting" the first post, yet say in your very first sentence "the chant is perfectly acceptable"....meaning its OK with you that White High School Kids chant USA towards Hispanic kids in an attempt to insinuate the Hispanic Kids are NOT US Citizens. You call it "poor form"? My goodness....bury your head a little further in the sand.
The Fool February 16, 2013 at 07:53 PM
I guess my only question is whether kids were not allowed to chant other things. I simply refuse to believe that it was some sort of pressure or confusion that contributed to that situation. They weren't blowing off steam from being disallowed to verbalize. They were simply being asses, and with a clear undertone. We must stop making excuses for racism.
SP February 17, 2013 at 07:44 AM
Angelo, Your emotion blocks your logic. I said repeatedly that racism is intolerable and that all cultures and ethnicities make up the USA. I am only third generation American so spare me your lecture. By the way, not every kid chanting was white. It is hard to be blind to color lines when you keep accentuating them.
Concerned Citizen February 17, 2013 at 11:10 AM
" I don't find chanting "USA USA" IN THE USA racist" & "I think the chant is perfectly acceptable". (Those were your quotes...right SP? Both of which ARE Racist when used in the manner the PHS kids used it. Give me a break, or state your point better. Political Correctness has absolutely ZERO to do with any of this story. Sheesh.
Green T February 22, 2013 at 06:23 PM
Blah blah blah! Dress up racism in any pretty package you want. It's still and always wrong. It's taught at home. We all know what acceptable behavior is is what it is not.


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