Minority community members allege racism at LHS

Several community members and family members of Lassen High School students attended the Tuesday, March 8 Lassen Union High School District Board of Trustees’ meeting to complain minority and White students involved in a February incident on campus received different discipline based on their ethnicity.

School officials declined to comment or did not return Lassen News’ calls. One educator said she didn’t know anything about the alleged offenses, but even if she did, she couldn’t comment because student disciplinary actions are confidential according to state law.

While LHS has not released any information regarding the nature of the incident or the students’ alleged violations of school rules, it apparently involved air guns and/or water balloons in the school parking lot.

Christi Choo, a Native American resident of Susanville who graduated from LHS in 1975 and retired from the Lassen County Office of Education after 35 years of service, was the first to address the board.

“Recently, the LHS Board of Trustees, district superintendent and dean of students supported the suspension of three minority students and issued a warning to two Caucasian students for the same violation and allowed one of these students to play in a section championship game,” Choo told the trustees. “Where is the justice in that? If all five students violated the same alleged offense, why were there separate punishments? From my view, this is racism. This is a very powerful word, and a word not to be taken lightly.”

Choo placed the blame squarely on the trustees.

“You, as the LHS school board, are elected to represent all students, whether they be Hispanic, Native Americans, African Americans, Pacific Islanders, Asians or Caucasians. Before this board takes further action against these minority students, I hope all of you understand the seriousness of our allegations and how it will affect our students in the future.”

An unidentified speaker suggested the trustees should consider revising the board policies regarding student discipline. She alleged there has been an increase in the number of suspension determinations made by Morgan Nugent, LHS’ principal/superintendent.

“Why is one person given so much power,” she asked.

Another unidentified speaker said the length of the suspensions for the White students was reduced after the parents complained, and one female student involved in the incident was not suspended at all and allowed to play in a recent sectional championship basketball game. The speaker also alleged that student was found in possession of a knife and shot gun shells, an alleged violation of campus rules.

“Winning a game is more important?” the speaker asked, before calling for Nugent’s resignation.

Another speaker said minority students had to learn how they were being discriminated against.

“Don’t make us be embarrassed by what we are,” the speaker said.

Jarrett Ellena, the board president, thanked the speakers for the comments, but he said the board is unable to comment on issues brought up during public comment.

“We are listening, I want you to know that,” Ellena said.

Nugent said his family has Native American roots, and he called the racism allegations very hurtful.

“I will always do what is right for the students,” Nugent said. “Honestly, it hurts to be called a racist.”

He said he looked at the statistics on the number of suspensions and he said there were fewer than there were in 2020.

And he said if there is discrimination at LHS, it is his responsibility to correct it.

Board member Tony Shaw said he’d like to get beyond the issue of suspensions and said the appeal process outlined online is not clear.

An attendee said there is a link of the district’s website that appears to address the appeal issue, but the information provided is about Title 9, not the appeal of suspensions.

Ellena said the board is not involved in the suspensions. He said the board sets a policy and then the administration administers it.

In the end, the board agreed to agendize the issue for an upcoming meeting.