The Coronado School Board met on Tuesday, June 22 at 5pm to address the tortilla-throwing incident at the CIF championship basketball game on June 19 between Coronado High School and Orange Glen High School from Escondido, resulting in the firing of Coronado head coach JD Laaperi.
The Coronado Times reached out to CUSD to get details on why Coach Laaperi was fired and they responded that they do not comment on confidential personnel matters. It is unclear both why he was fired and if he was fired from his teaching position or just his coaching position.
Tuesday’s meeting, which followed 17 public comments and a private closed session by the board to discuss disciplinary measures, came on the heels of an earlier press conference at Coronado High School organized by the North County Equity & Justice Coalition, Gente Unida and the Racial Justice Coalition of San Diego, all of which called for swift retribution for alleged racist actions.
Video of item 3 from June 22 meeting:
The board meeting, for the most part, followed a similar tone.
“We have an obligation to not only combat racism and other forms of intolerance, but we have a duty to educate students on our rights, and the rights of others,” said Trustee Whitney Antrim during opening comments of the special meeting. “That is our job.”
At the June 19 game, videos captured two CHS players hurling tortillas into an after-game fray, a heated and contentious ruckus that prompted at least one attendee to call 9-1-1. Observers were quick to point out that the act of throwing tortillas in the direction of players from a largely Hispanic high school was racist in nature, and that the statement made by head coach JD Laaperi allegedly calling the opposing team “losers” and telling them to “get the (expletive) out” was grounds for dismissal.
The news story sent shockwaves through local media outlets and ultimately found traction in publications from the LA Times to USA Today to the Daily Mail.
Superintendent Karl Mueller said that the ensuing investigation organized by the Coronado Unified School District could take from one to three weeks. He said the process involved reviewing videos, personal accounts from coaches, players, and referees, and looking for CUSD staff or student violations. The Coronado Police Department and CIF are also running parallel investigations, according to Mueller.
In his opening comments, Board President Lee Pontes apologized to Orange Glen High School, and said, “No matter what the intentions of the [tortilla] tosser, the ethnic implications are unavoidable and undeniable.”
Trustee Esther Valdes-Clayton expressed solidarity with the Latin community, as a first-generation Latina.
“When I saw the video it was very hard,” she said. “I want everyone to understand that the racial tones and classism and colorism was evident to every Latino from the West Coast to the East Coast. We don’t need you to explain it to us. We know what we saw and it hurt.”
Trustee Helen Anderson-Cruz said she “shared the passionate plea for consensus and healing,” and that the basketball court is an extension of the classroom.
“The same professional standards and ethical duties required in the classroom extend to the basketball court in all sanctioned school sporting events,” said Anderson-Cruz. “It’s not a place for vile language, racial slurs, physical confrontations or any kind of hate speech. The talented athletes of Orange Glen deserve better.”
Not everyone agreed with the urgency of an emergency meeting, or quick response from the district implicating some students of unsportsmanlike behavior.
Gerri Machin, a Coronado community member who says she did not attend the game, questioned the rush to send out a statement on behalf of the district, and said “we need leaders with courage.” She questioned the scheduling of an emergency school board before the police report was complete, and “all facts were known.”
A CHS alumni and dedicated basketball fan who attended the game, Candie Biggins Couts, acknowledged that fans on both sides that were “not acting sportsmanlike.” But she said that Mueller “jumped the gun” by sending out a press release prematurely, and caused a “myriad of issues” for team players in the aftermath of the game, including death threats. She accused Mueller of failing to give the basketball players the benefit of the doubt, and asked him to “step up, do your job, and clear their name.”
Wayne McKinney, Coronado High School basketball team captain, stood at the podium, sharing that reports about the CIF championship game were not accurate. He admitted that the game itself was physical, and that “there were words said during the game,” although he and his teammates were not aware that tortillas were brought to the game.
But McKinney said that the subsequent throwing of the tortillas was “unsportsmanlike and inexcusable.”
“On behalf of the team, we apologize for that action,” he said.
Yusef Miller, of the North County Equity and Justice Coalition and an Escondido dad, said he was concerned about the sidestepping of a racial incident, and that it warranted a full investigation.
“I don’t care what race they are. This was wrong and unjust,” he said. “My children will be playing (sports) in Coronado. Will it be safe? Will it just be tortillas? Or will it be something else?”
Congressman Juan Vargas even weighed in on the incident, sending a representative to share a statement. “This type of behavior has to stop,” said Vargas, in a prepared statement. “If these kids aren’t held accountable and responsible for their actions, then we are also to blame for allowing these acts of racism to continue.”
Enrique Morones from the San Diego Anti-Hate coalition said he didn’t have to be physically at the game to see the racism.
“Those weren’t two tortillas. Those were bombs of racism getting thrown on the people,” said Monroes. “Hate isn’t welcome here, and it’s not welcome anywhere.”
Coronado basketball dad and Equity Committee member Kevin Ashley said that his son was on the court when the winning shot was made.
“I can’t imagine how I would feel if it was my son had watermelon thrown at him, or fried chicken, and so I was offended,” said Ashley, whose son is black. “But this is complicated. I coached one of the boys who threw the tortillas, and he’s a good kid. He did something stupid, but he’s a good kid.”
He said that CUSD has to find a way to get through the experience and help the kids learn from it, and acknowledged that the problem was urgent; it couldn’t wait. He said community members needed to look in the mirror, and realize that there was a problem.
“I’m sorry,” said Ashley, addressing a coach from the Orange Glen team who attended the board meeting. “We offended your team, we offended your coaches, we offended your school, and we offended your Latino community, not just in Escondido but everywhere. And we’re going to make it right.”
In an earlier email, Mueller said that CUSD would work closely with the Escondido Union High School District (EUHSD) to coordinate experiences which bring students together to facilitate restorative meetings designed to learn and heal from the incident Saturday night. Information regarding these experiences/forums will be shared in the near future.
More information will be shared as it is made available.
On Wednesday, June 23, Coronado resident Luke Serna shared that he was the one person who bought, brought and distributed the tortillas: