Harassment and Discrimination Experienced by Lexington Catholic Students

A story of threatening, assault and possible administrative corruption.

lchsOn Apr. 10, Bishop John Stowe led mass at Saint Peter Claver Catholic Church. At the end of the mass he addressed “the elephant in the room” – Lexington Catholic High School. He did not give specifics regarding the event, and sitting in the audience, it was hard to tell just what happened there; but he did make one thing clear: ”those within the church must come together to promote the loving and accepting nature that the Catholic faith is meant to have.” Since then, however, many more allegations have come out against the school. This story has spiraled into one of racial-based threatening and discrimination to issues with threatening, assault and possible administrative corruption.

The spotlight on Lexington Catholic began on Apr. 6, when the Key News Journal reported that a 14 year-old black student was being harassed by a white 17 year-old fellow student and teammate. His mother found threatening messages on his computer regarding a fundraiser. The older student suggested that the 14 year-old “pick [his] cotton” or “sell crack” to get the money he owed. Other messages asked the boy if he knew what lynching was and stated that “lynch means I’m gonna kill you bc your black and I just might.” The mother alleges that her concerns were not taken seriously by school officials, and said that when she requested her son’s transcript, it was withheld, and she was charged $4,000 for the missing fundraising money.

Lexington Catholic President, Steve Angelucci, released a statement on the school’s website on Apr. 8. Angelucci said that the article, “honestly caught us by surprise” and “does not accurately reflect the culture of faith, caring and kindness” that is promoted at the school. According to Angelucci, the situation and how it was handled are quite different from media representation. He also stated that he reached out to the family to offer his apologies and to “arrange a favorable resolution with the family.” Lexington Catholic has also reached out to Dr. Roger Cleveland of EKU to “improve culture and appreciation of diversity,” said Angelucci. While Angelucci says that the school “has no control over what students do on the internet,” he also added that it does “have control over how we respond to these challenges.”

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) informed the public that it wanted the incident to be investigated as a hate crime in a statement released on Apr. 9. The statement read “it is our contention that the criminal acts of this individual led to a charge of harassing communications was racially motivated and falls under the KRS definition of a hate crime.”

The case at the time was being handled by Fayette County Attorney Larry Roberts.

The 17-year-old has been suspended until the investigation ends.

On Apr. 14, seven students and a teacher made public statements about discrimination and harassment that was experienced at the school, and how these issues were handled internally by administration.

Washington D.C. attorney, Amos Jones, is now representing the 14 year-old along with two other students who also allege that they also experienced harassment and threatening at Lexington Catholic.

The first additional case involves another black student who experienced harassment. The full details have not been made public, but it has been reported that the student left the school on Apr. 12 after a confrontation in the school cafeteria on Apr. 11. Jones said that the student has been bullied repeatedly this semester and he said that the boy’s parents “described a bunker environment taking hold at the school, where some black students increasingly feel under siege.”  Angelucci released another statement stating that school officials were unaware of the assault until he received a letter on Apr. 12. He also said that because the letter does not contain the details of the event, the school “cannot adequately investigate the [Apr. 11] incident and determined what steps [could have been] taken to address what happened.”

The second additional case is that of a white female who claims to have been sexually assaulted by two white males while on a field trip. She sought representation on Apr. 14 after being unsatisfied with the school’s handling of the situation. Reportedly, police were not contacted when the incident was initially brought to the attention of administration.

NAACP is now calling for Angelucci and Lexington Catholic principal Sally Stevens to resign. William Saunders, president of the Lexington-Fayette NAACP said “We are actually in the year 2016. And if you see what is taking place when we start talking about lynchings again, it takes us all the way back to the sixties.” Saunders met with Lexington Bishop, John Stowe, on Apr. 14 to discuss ways to fix the problem of racism at Lexington Catholic but “was not satisfied” with some of the bishop’s answers according to WKYT. He says they are scheduled to meet again in the near future, but did not specify a date.

As of Apr. 15, two other girls have come forward with allegations of sexual assault. A former student provided messages from a cleric of the Diocese of Lexington asking her “to keep this on the ‘down low’.” The cleric had several exchanges with the student expressing his sympathy and attempting to call and meet with her. She declined and “departed the school traumatized” after school officials attempted to force her to write an apology to the male student whom she accused of assault. Her transcript was held as she left. In a press release, Amos Jones remarked “We haven’t heard a peep from Lexington Catholic other than through their misleading prepared statements that are frequently discredited within hours of being issued.”

On Apr. 22, Lexington Catholic’s Board of Trustees released a statement that it has authorized a School Life and Culture Committee that will oversee the diversity, ethics, and cultural competency initiatives within the school.

On May 10, the NAACP held a rally in front of Lexington Catholic High School to protest against the racial issues taking place at the school. Many Lexington Catholic students who were taking an AP test said that they could hear the protest from inside the building.  

We are actually in the year 2016. And if you see what is taking place when we start talking about lynchings again, it takes us all the way back to the sixties

— William Saunders, Lexington-Fayette NAACP President

The NAACP has also expanded the issue to involve the Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA). NAACP Vice President Adrian Wallace sent a letter to KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett requesting an investigation of the high school’s football coach. The coach has been accused of recruiting the student who was threatened by an older teammate, which is a violation of the KHSAA “no-recruitment statute.”

Although located in Lexington, Lexington Catholic is a private school so it is not under the purview of Fayette County Public Schools policies. Had these events taken place in a public school, they would have been handled very differently. According to FCPS Assaults and Threats of Violence policy, “School administrators, teachers, or other school personnel may immediately remove or cause to be removed threatening or violent students from a classroom setting or from the District’s transportation system pending any further disciplinary action that may occur.” In addition, when principals have “reasonable belief that a violation has taken place,” they are required to inform law enforcement. The FCPS Bullying policy also requires that bullying and hazing be reported to law enforcement. In addition, employees are required to investigate the incident and complete the proper documentation.

The Harassment and Discrimination Policy states that “Failure by employees to report a suspected violation of this policy or to otherwise follow this policy and related procedures… or to take corrective action shall be cause for disciplinary action.” According to this policy, if Lexington Catholic were part of the public school system, all officials involved in any of the incidents should be disciplined. Secondly, employees who know of harassment or discrimination are immediately to notify the principal who is required to inform the superintendent. The superintendent is then required to open and investigation as soon as possible and “implement… methods to prevent reoccurrence. Finally, it says that “complaints shall be addressed in compliance with applicable federal and state laws.”

In comparison, the Lexington Catholic Student Handbook outlines “Proper Behavior” expected of students. It states that harassment and derogatory remarks will not be tolerated. Faculty and staff are required to document any instances of harassment and report them to the principal. The handbook states that violations of the behavior policy are grounds for detention, suspension and expulsion. Unlike FCPS policies however, Lexington Catholic policies do not require law enforcement to be contacted at any time.

As the investigation continues, one can only hope that Lexington Catholic’s administration can find a solution to the issues that is acceptable to all groups involved. With time, the school will hopefully be able to restore the reputation of excellence that it has held in the past.