Minnesota school chief says there’s no proof Black athletes were taunted with ‘monkey noises’

Of the roughly 20 people interviewed in the probe, only one person from Cooper High, the accusing school, was questioned.

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The superintendent of New Prague Area Schools in Minnesota has released the results of its investigation into whether students, parents or fans at New Prague High taunted an opposing team with monkey noises while hosting a Feb. 15 girls basketball game.

According to The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Tim Dittberner wrote the findings in a letter to staff and students’ families that included the results of an independent investigation commissioned by the school district. The probe reportedly looked into the allegations, and officials interviewed roughly 20 people who were present for the game, maintaining that “loud monkey noises directed at the opposing team could not be substantiated.”

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Minnesota school officials maintained that reports of monkey noises directed at New Prague High School’s opposing basketball team last month could not be substantiated (Photo: AdobeStock)

Of those who were interviewed, only one person from Cooper High School, the opposing school, was questioned. 

“On the night of the game, no one, including coaches, fans, and players from the opposing team and the game officials, reported hearing monkey noises to the district,” Dittberner wrote. “The district only learned of the allegation through a social media post made after the game had ended.”

However, a statement Monday from Robbinsdale Area Schools Superintendent David Engstrom and its seven-member cabinet says their district “refused to subject our student-athletes and additional staff members to questioning by their investigators — a process that would have forced students and staff to relive their traumatic experience.”

They reiterated that “we believe our Cooper student-athletes and coaches. We believe the first-person statements they made about the incident, and we believe the team did experience racist taunts and jeers from the New Prague crowd.”

One of the findings from the investigation, according to Dittberner’s letter, was that “The allegation that a New Prague fan yelled out ‘monkey’ while a player from the opposing team was shooting a free throw was not substantiated. The word yelled out during this particular free throw was ‘Nike,’ the name of the play called by the coach that the New Prague team was supposed to run following the free throw.”

The incident was one of three reported in Minnesota in recent weeks of minority students facing reported racism. A Minnesota high school basketball coach has resigned, and a team canceled the rest of its season after a player found a racist note in her gym bag. The incident occurred in Prior Lake schools, where that superintendent is also leaving after this school year. In a separate incident involving New Prague students, The Star-Tribune reported that some youngsters made the “white power” sign during a hockey game, but the students were said to not understand the symbol.

Despite absolving his district of any wrongdoing, Dittberner wrote that New Prague High will implement new “best practices,” including raising awareness about bullying, race and proper conduct. 

As previously reported by theGrio, the Minnesota State High School League announced it would launch an initiative to “improve behavior at high school events, as well as schools in general,” according to a press release. It wants to develop a code of conduct, raise awareness about race bullying and gender, and establish best practices to stop harmful behaviors. 

“Regardless of the findings of New Prague’s investigation,” district officials’ statement concluded, “Robbinsdale Area Schools, including Cooper High School, will not compete in any athletic events against New Prague for the foreseeable future.”

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