Friday, February 15, 2008

Whoever tied the noose and hung it on his door knob was not ignorant of the symbol's meaning.

Unadilla Valley Central School officials have identified two students they believe are responsible for hanging a noose on a counselor's door last week.

School Superintendent Robert Mackey said Wednesday the students are being disciplined, but he would not release any specific information about who the students are or what disciplinary actions were being taken.

"I can tell you that the consequences will match the offensiveness of the act," Mackey said.

The students have not been attending school since they were identified, he said.

The noose tied from clothesline-type rope was found the morning of Feb. 6 on the door of the Liberty Partnership Program counselor's room while school was in session, troopers previously said.

The counselor was identified by the school as Mark Montgomery, who is black. He has been at the school for 11/2 years.

The incident remains under investigation by Norwich state police. Troopers on Wednesday said they were hoping to have closure in the case by Friday, but they would not indicate if that closure would involve criminal charges.

There are no other students involved, Mackey said.

"We are sure that this is it," Mackey said.

Mackey said school staff had heard from other students that the two suspected of hanging the noose may have learned how to tie it by watching a video on YouTube, the popular Internet video-sharing website.

Mackey said he couldn't speculate on a motive.

"We can't answer specifically what was going through the minds of the kids," Mackey said. "Many teenagers really act without ever thinking about the end result.

The school resource officer _ a state trooper _ was a huge help in bringing the incident to a quick resolution, Mackey said.

State police Bureau of Criminal Investigation officers were in the school within a few hours of the noose being found, he said.

Students began coming forward Sunday with information about who hung the noose, and by Tuesday, both students who participated were identified, Mackey said.

School officials are treating this as an isolated incident, he said, but as the school deals with the incident's aftermath, staff will be trying to gauge the depth of any racist sentiment that might exist at the school.

The school is planning an assembly for older elementary, middle and high school students after winter break next week, Mackey said.

Teachers will then "circle the desks" and talk with the students in a classroom setting about issues surrounding race and the noose incident.

"We're working on that phase now," Mackey said.

If there appears to be a need for a longer-term approach to any race or discrimination issues at the school, the district my opt to start an Alternatives to Violence program or participate in a course of study through Project Reach, which focuses on respecting ethnic and cultural heritage, Mackey said.

Ultimately, the noose incident could be an opportunity to educate students, he said.

"Our main goal is to facilitate learning every day," Mackey said.

Montgomery, a resident of Clayville in Oneida County, said Monday night he works with at-risk youth in his role with the Liberty Partnership program, which has a goal of reducing drop-out rates.

"I have sadly been exposed to racism my entire life," Montgomery said, but the hanging of a noose brought it to a new level.

Noose displays have garnered national media attention in recent months.

In late January, a federal grand jury indicted an 18-year-old Louisiana man on hate crime and conspiracy charges for allegedly fashioning nooses with a 16-year-old that were then displayed toward marchers traveling from a civil-rights rally in September.

Earlier in January, the editor of Golfweek magazine was fired for using a noose on the magazine's cover to illustrate coverage of controversy over comments regarding lynching and Tiger Woods made by a Golf Channel broadcaster.

President Bush spoke about the symbolism of the noose during an event Tuesday marking African-American History Month.

"The noose is not a symbol of prairie justice, but of gross injustice," Bush said. "Displaying one is not a harmless prank. Lynching is not a word to be mentioned in jest."

Montgomery said that whoever tied the noose and hung it on his door knob was not ignorant of the symbol's meaning

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