State Rep: Fire All The Coaches In The Academic Magnet

- Oct 24, 2014-

North Charleston, South Carolina (WCIV) - On Friday, Bud Walpole standing on the sidelines, hoping that he can pick up the Raptors academic magnet seventh victory. This Friday, he will do the same. But it is what has happened in the last week, the real shape of the first step in the North Charleston area.

This is because Walpole was fired Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday alternately defended and slander, and asked to return to their jobs on Thursday. He said yes, according to his lawyer Dwayne Green.

Green said Walpole was both thankful and grateful for the opportunity to return to the sidelines and will take this week as a learning opportunity.
But the issue seems to be far from over after a strange press briefing Thursday morning in front of the school district's headquarters involving District 113 Rep. Seth Whipper and members of the Bonds Wilson Alumni Association.

Whipper called for the re-firing of Academic Magnet head coach Bud Walpole on Thursday. He also called for the firing of all of the football team's assistant coaches.

He also wants Academic Magnet to suspend the rest of the season.

McGinley said in a release early Wednesday evening she had asked Walpole to return to work. She met with Walpole at 2 p.m. and asked him for a statement of commitment which he provided nearly three hours later.

"I feel good about our meeting, and I am confident that in his position as teacher, mentor and coach he will use the experience to deliver on his commitments," McGinley said in the letter.

Part of Walpole's commitment, if he accepts the district's offer, will be to "teach all of the students to better respect the differences of others and to be sensitive to their feelings;" to attend in sensitivity training provided by the district; and "counsel my students before games to be extra vigilant in their actions when dealing with others of different racial or ethnic backgrounds."

McGinley said this ordeal was not about winning or losing, but bout ensuring that everyone gets respect and dignity in the community

While Walpole and McGinley were meeting at district headquarters, attorneys Andy Savage and Larry Kobrovsky met with parents at Academic Magnet.

Notes from that meeting show parents are looking for CCSD officials to define its current procedures for handling investigations as well as assurances those procedures are carried out evenly for everyone across the district.

The shift in Walpole's employment came after Charleston NAACP officials likened the post-game watermelon ritual that led to the firing of the coach to a black football team urinating on the Confederate flag after games.

Chapter president Dot Scott compared the ritual by Academic Magnet's football team to a predominantly black football team urinating on a Confederate Flag as a "victory ritual" when they beat a predominantly white team. The Academic Magnet watermelon celebration being defined as "fun" was also compared to the "fun" whites used to have lynching blacks.

She said Wednesday the NAACP would not comment on that statement, however.

School board member Elizabeth Moffley said by phone Wednesday afternoon that she thought Superintendent Nancy McGinley would reinstate Walpole before the board convened again to vote on the matter.

Moffley said the majority of board members are unhappy with the way Walpole was fired and the decision to fire him. As a result, many members are encouraging McGinley to reinstate him quickly.

Scott read a prepared statement Wednesday afternoon commending the school district for "swift attention to an inappropriate and racially insensitive ritual."

Scott said the drawings on the watermelon were racially identifiable caricatures and named for a former black high school. CCSD Superintendent Dr. Nancy McGinley said Tuesday the students named the watermelons Bonds Wilson, which is the name of the campus area and former predominantly-black school where Academic Magnet and School of the Arts now sit.

She went on to say that someone has to be held accountable for the behavior of the players.

"The parents and other adults involved -- who should set a standard of positive behavior for our children -- are old enough to know that and should re-examine their values if they try to excuse away a blatant insult to many in our community, regardless of race or culture," she said.

Scott said the issue at Academic Magnet is representative of a larger problem across CCSD, pointing to non-specific examples of black Kindergarten students being interrogated, and black middle school students being arrested for talking back to teachers.

There is a diversity problem in the schools, Scott said, which may be why the students named watermelons Bonds Wilson instead of having the school name changed to Bonds Wilson Academic Magnet.

A parent at the CCSD press conference on Tuesday said the students used the name as a nod to school pride. Others who are defending the students and Walpole said it was the team's sole black member who filed the online petition to have him reinstated.

Scott said there are always outliers when issues of race and racism arise.

Scott did say she met with Walpole Wednesday morning and he apologized for the incident, saying he did not see the celebration by his team as racially insensitive.

On Tuesday, school district superintendent Dr. Nancy McGinley responded to questions from parents and the media on why officials elected to fire Academic Magnet's football coach after learning of a post-game celebratory ritual.

Walpole was fired Monday. McGinley clarified the situation Tuesday, saying Walpole was removed from all athletic programs. He was also the coach of the girls' basketball team.

She said she had not talked to Walpole but would be meeting with him and then the board before making a decision on reinstating him.

Early information about the scandal only showed the students were breaking open watermelons and eating them after victories. McGinley said reports from people at other schools suggested they were making "animalistic or monkey-like chants" after the games.

Further, the students also drew a face on each watermelon and named them, according to McGinley. She said the investigation revealed the students also named the watermelons Junior and Bonds Wilson.

Bonds Wilson is the name of the formerly predominantly-black school in North Charleston where Academic Magnet now sits.

McGinley said the complaint was lodged on Oct. 13 through a board member who was concerned about racial stereotypes. As a result, the school's principal was called and an investigation began.

However, McGinley said school officials found no culture of racism and called it an "innocent ritual." That's when school board member Michael Miller included complaints of the chants.

"The purchasing of the watermelon, the drawing of the face to me makes this issue not only inappropriate but highly disrespectful and highly insensitive," Miller said after the press conference Tuesday. "I do recognize that children will be children, youth will be youth, and sometimes in their youthfulness they are not aware of the social ramification and implications of things that they do."

Walpole declined to comment on the matter Monday evening. David Spurlock, the Charleston County director of athletics, confirmed Walpole's ouster Monday evening.

District officials released a brief statement Tuesday morning on the matter, only saying an investigation was conducted that led to Walpole's dismissal. The statement classified the post-game celebrations described by a student and parent as "inappropriate."

The district also named the interim coaching staff.

"Coach Andrew Rusciolelli will serve as the interim head football coach and Coach Steven Kamp and Coach Gary Weart will be assistants for the two remaining games of the 2014 season," the statement reads.

Meanwhile, the Academic Magnet student body is being vocal in trying to get Walpole reinstated, including an online petition with nearly 1,800 signatures by 5 p.m. Tuesday. The petition was started by Darius Nwokike.

"Walpole is the greatest coach to walk Magnet's halls," said one student in an email to ABC News 4.

The student, who is not on the football team, said he has only seen Walpole interacting with the school's athletic director, but otherwise has never interacted with Walpole.

According to the student, the issue with Walpole began with celebrations after games.

"The whole thing began when the football team started celebrating victories by smashing a watermelon and cheering in a circle to celebrate a hard-fought win," the student said in an email. "This was seen by a [Charleston County School District] official who deemed the act to be racist."

The student said Walpole did not purchase the watermelons.

However, the student said the football team was taken out of class last week by the district's associate superintendent and another man and asked about the watermelon incidents.

Walpole and the team traveled to Whale Branch on Friday, a day after the interviews, the student said.

"Then [Monday] after school, as Coach Walpole and was coming to the school for practice, he was stopped... and told of his firing," the student said.

A parent of a student on the football team corroborated the student's story, adding the members of the team were held for several hours while each was questioned individually about the actions of the incident.

The parent said the students ate or destroyed a watermelon after each game as an act of good luck. The parent went on to say this was not an act of racism but a seemingly harmless activity for a team.

A former student posted an opinion to CNN's iReport, calling to task the school district's process and decision.

"These high school athletes were forced into a room one by one and questioned about their 'racist' acts. Since when is eating watermelon racist? Since when does a school board have the right to interrogate students without notifying their parents? The way this situation has been handled can only be described as despicable," the former student wrote.

Another former player, Tyre Moore, called Walpole "one of the nicest and most caring coaches I've ever played for. I truly believe, along with any other players, that Coach Walpole is a first-class guy who always does the right thing."

Walpole has been the head coach at Academic Magnet for nearly a decade.

The school district has a diversity council, a group that aims to promote diversity within CCSD and offers diversity awareness education. It is headed up by Dr. Brenda Nelson, who said the first phase of the district's diversity program was started during the 2009-2010 and wrapped up in 2012. The second phase is underway, but Nelson did not have details on it.

Nelson said CCSD was among the first in the state to have a diversity council. She is also working on a diversity plan for the district that should be rolled out in early