A Black basketball player at Westside High School in Clear Fork, W. Va., discovered a drawing of a stick figure hanging from a noose with his name written beside it last Friday, inside the locker room of a rival school.
NBC News reports Jace Colucci, 17, spotted the drawing on a bulletin board as he went to suit up for the court and also noticed that the stick figure’s face was colored in and an arrow pointing to the figure carried his name. At the time, he was preparing to play rival Wyoming East, a high school located in New Richmond.
Now, family attorney Sean Cook said the family is exploring their options under federal and state law. Cook also said this isn’t the first time Jace, who is the only African American basketball player at Westside High School, has experienced racism while playing Wyoming East. Last Februrary, Cook told NBC News a Snapchat video of the game showed Wyoming East High School students chanting “hang Jace, hang Jace.”
Erica Colucci Ayers, Jace’s mom, told Bluefield, W. Va., station WVVA that she blames the school board for not taking acts like this as seriously as they should.
“Not only do I think they’ve failed my son, I think they’ve failed all of the students,” she said.
Wyoming County Schools Superintendent, Deidre Cline, told NBC News in a statement that in the earlier Snapchat incident, the video was investigated by authorities, but the district and the sheriff’s office couldn’t determine what the students were chanting.
Last Friday’s incident with the noose drawing will be investigated as well, Cline said.
“Wyoming County Schools takes all reports of bullying or harassment, of any kind, very seriously,” Cline said in the statement to NBC. “We have zero tolerance for any form of bullying or harassment. The drawing and its origin will be investigated, thoroughly, and any necessary action will be taken. Wyoming County Schools values every student!”
Cline said police are involved and that the prosecutor would also be determining whether the incident is a hate crime. If so, Cline said, she will “support that finding and take any appropriate action.”
“We will work to thoroughly assist and cooperate in every way with the investigation,” Cline added.
Cook said West Virginia law requires school boards to adopt anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies to address incidents like this and prevent them from reoccurring, which didn’t happen in Jace’s case.
“Jace is a brave young man for coming forward after enduring repeated acts of bullying and racial harassment,” Cook told NBC News. “He realizes the importance of coming forward so something like this doesn’t happen again to not just him, but others.”