Parents, Coronado Mayor Hold Rally Calling for Apology from Coronado Board Over Tortilla-Throwing Incident

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Coronado Mayor, Richard Bailey along with parents part of the "We the Parents of Coronado" group, rallied in front of the Coronado Unified School District (CUSD) Wednesday calling the board to publicly apologize to the Coronado High Basketball team and the Coronado community for what they call was a rush to judgment.

"The people speaking today, including myself, believe that a thorough and comprehensive investigation should take place before anyone is held accountable for their actions," Bailey said.

Those in attendance believe the CUSD Governing Board statement sent to the Orange Glen Community calling the postgame tortilla-throwing incident as "egregious, demeaning and disrespectful," was a rush to judgment before any thorough investigation was made.

"If the school board is looking for a teachable moment, what they should do is that they should take responsibility for their actions and their words that these actions of these players were motivated by racism, colorism, and classism," Bailey said. "Apologize for those unfounded accusations. Issue a retraction and withhold all future judgments until an investigation is complete. That is what due process looks like."

Stacy Keszei, CUSD School Board member, also spoke on Wednesday's rally saying if the board can vote to appeal to the CIF decision of vacating the CHS championship title following its investigation of the postgame tortilla-throwing incident, then the board can apologize to the children and community.

"The school board rushed to judgment at the expense of our students, school and community and I was one of those individuals and I do apologize," Keszei said. "It is time for our school to retract our original statement and apologize for stating the incident is racially motivated."

On Tuesday, the governing board of the CUSD voted unanimously to appeal CIF's decision of vacating the CHS championship title following its investigation of the postgame tortilla-throwing incident that largely overshadowed the matchup with Orange Glen High School of Escondido two weekends ago.

NBC 7's Omari Fleming has the latest from the CIF and the response from the local school district.

A parent who is part of the "We the Parents of Coronado” group believes the incident is purely at the fault of one individual---Luke Serna.

"Luke Serna handed out these tortillas out to these kids and 99% of these kids, you won't see this out on video, took these tortillas and threw them on the ground saying it was the wrong thing to do," Jim said.

NBC 7 spoke with Esther Valdes-Clayton a CUSD Governing Board Member. She says the appeal in no way diminishes the apology to Orange Glen.

"This in no way diminishes the apology that we requested from Orange Glen due to the events following the CIF Game. That apology stands to the Orange Glen community to the Latino community, to the immigrant community. And in no way to diminish the harm that was done and the remorsefulness felt from our community to theirs," Valdes-Clayton said. "And we extend also the fact that they were gracious in defeat and they were also gracious in accepting our apology and we want to honor that as well."

The Coronado Superintendent has 15 days to present the appeal.

The CIF Decision

"In this instance, there is no doubt the act of throwing tortillas at a predominately Latino team is unacceptable and warrants sanctions," the CIF said last week, in part.

In addition to being stripped of its Division 4-A Regional Championship title, Coronado High was placed on probation through the 2023-24 school year and won't be allowed to host any sectional, regional, or state postseason basketball games through the 2022-23 school year. The school's entire athletics program will be barred from hosting postseason play until:

  1. Completion of a sportsmanship workshop (to include a component of racial/cultural sensitivity training such as the NFHS Implicit Bias Course) for all Coronado High School administrators, athletic director(s), coaches and student-athletes.
  2. Completion of game management training for all Coronado High School administrators and athletic director(s).

Read CIF's full statement below:

The Coronado Unified School District released a statement following the CIF's decision, which read in part, "We are currently reviewing the decision and will evaluate a possible appeal. We have also retained an outside investigator to thoroughly review the incident, which will guide any additional corrective actions. Whatever actions we take to address this matter, this incident and the CIF decision have served as clear reminders of the importance of sportsmanship and respectful conduct toward one another."

The tortilla throwing overshadowed a hard-fought game between the two schools on June 19, and shined a spotlight on the mostly white upscale island community of Coronado, and Escondido's Orange Glen High School, of which around 80% of its student body is Latino.

In the days following the incident, the CUSD board voted unanimously to fire CHS head basketball coach J.D. Laaperi. Last weekend, the district superintendent told the CIF in a letter the district's investigation found no evidence warranting forfeiture of the title.

The two school communities seemed split over the CIF's decision, with both a Coronado High alum and the city's mayor telling NBC 7 the CIF rushed to judgment.

"This is not a racist incident," graduate Paul Lull said. "I don't know how you can implement sanctions before you do a complete investigation. It seems like elected officials legislated this whole result, not testimony from people who were at the game and were involved in what happened.

Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey felt similarly, saying people in authority rushed their decisions.

"Often times the truth is nuanced. This is certainly unsportsmanlike conduct, this certainly has some racial insensitivities there, but that doesn't necessarily mean this was a racist act," Bailey said. "And I think those are two very important distinctions."

Meanwhile, Orange Glen parents appeared relieved by the decision to strip Coronado of its title.

"I was a little skeptical they would go as far as they did so we're grateful," parent Mickey Chew said. "But the goal all along has been to fight the good fight here and try and achieve justice, and try and send a message to people who would try to perpetuate racist action against these high school athletes. We want to protect future high school athletes from ever having to go through the stuff again."

Last week, San Diego County Human Relations Commission (HRC) voted unanimously to form a Youth Advisory Board that could help bridge the gap, kid-to-kid in the youth community.

"Our young people know what the deal is and what's happening, and they also have incredible solutions on anti-hate or anti-racism," Ellen Nash, Chair of the HRC said.

The HRC thinks creating a youth board is the first step in bringing young people to the table to lead the charge in eliminated school-to-school or student-to-student prejudice and increasing cultural sensitivity.

The group would be made up of students from schools across the county who would collaborate with other youth groups to tackle division.

"What happened inside the gymnasium was a disgrace, embarrassing," Coronado parent Chuck Gossage said. "Frankly, the idea of student leadership, well-represented from all the schools in the San Diego area, I think it's a fabulous idea. Taking away the adult perspective where some of us are potentially jaded over the years, and are really dug into our positions."

How It Happened: The Tortilla-Throwing Incident

After the final buzzer but before the teams from each side shook hands in a post-game tradition, people on the Coronado side threw tortillas at the team from Escondido and – according to Orange Glen’s coaches – told them to get out of their gym.

There was a squabble between coaching staff from both schools. Video widely shared on social media showed at least two Coronado students throwing tortillas into the air toward the other team.

The Coronado school board's letter to the CIF stated that its investigation of the incident turned up evidence that showed there was regrettable behavior by both sides.

In a letter to the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), Coronado's schools boss said the district's probe of a tortilla-throwing incident following a championship game last weekend had not turned up any evidence that would require Coronado's High to forfeit the game. NBC 7's Amber Frias has more.

Mueller said CUSD has no "agenda" and wrote that, "according to multiple witness accounts, audio-video coverage, and personal statements from those involved," it's the district's understanding that "Numerous statements reference the actions of people representing both schools as contributing to somewhat of a 'powder keg' atmosphere." Mueller added that "there are allegations of inappropriate language from CHS and OGHS fans, coaches, and players which vary in who 'started it' or was 'worse' in these interactions."

Both groups behaved in ways that are not consistent with the CIF's code of ethics, the Coronado district's investigation determined, with the letter stating that the tortillas were thrown after "adults around the scorers' table, representing both OGHS and CHS, escalated tensions by using profanities and insults instead of modeling good sportsmanship."

Mueller went on to write that the throwing of the tortillas "caused offense and subjected our guests and Coronado residents present to feelings related to discrimination" and that the honorable thing to do following such an incident is to apologize, which he does: "I was and am deeply sorry."

Mueller said the district was working to organize time for the two teams to come together and "reconcile through a lens of understanding."

"We will be a better and stronger school community through our willingness to reflect and grow with humility," he said.

Laaperi said on social media before his firing that a community member brought the tortillas to the game and that the incident was “unacceptable and racist in nature” and he did not condone it.

NBC 7 learned that a Coronado alum, Luke Serna, announced that he had brought the tortillas to the game and denied that doing so had a racist component.

He maintained that he was evoking a tradition at UC Santa Barbara, which he also attended. People familiar with the practice of tortilla tossing at sporting events, however, say the intent is often to distract during games, not as a celebration after a victory, though a search of the Internet did turn up results describing people throwing tortillas after the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos scored a goal.

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