ST. PETERSBURG — The Pinellas County School District is investigating what it called a “racially insensitive incident" at St. Petersburg High School after a video surfaced on Twitter Tuesday.
The short clip shows an unidentified white student, dressed in a white shirt and straw hat, whipping another white student in the middle of a small crowd gathered in a courtyard on campus.
In a statement, school district spokeswoman Lisa Wolf-Chason characterized the incident as discriminatory. She called the student’s actions “disappointing and not reflective of our schools."
“This type of behavior is not acceptable and will not be tolerated," she said, adding that the district plans to provide more “cultural sensitivity” resources to the involved students.
In the tweet that alerted the district to the events, Twitter user @LogannPorterr said the student with the whip was impersonating a “slave owner.” But Joey Letz, a student at the school who witnessed the incident, said that isn’t true.
Each day of homecoming week has a theme, and on Monday it was “country club versus country,” he said. The student with the whip dressed as a farmer and borrowed the whip from another student.
“It was just for pictures and stuff like that,” Letz added. “Teachers saw it, administrators saw it. It was a known thing. It wasn’t a slave whip."
The whipping “went down like a bet” between friends, he said, and the two boys involved were just playing around. Then videos got uploaded to Snapchat and Twitter and people "completely misconstrued the story of what happened,” Letz said.
On Wednesday, the two boys in the video, another student who recorded it and the one who brought the whip to school were suspended, Letz said. The school district did not release names of the students or any more information about how they were disciplined.
“One of the administrators was calling them disgusting and racist,” Letz said. “They weren’t even trying to understand what happened. ... The school basically slandered all these kids’ names.”
St. Petersburg High principal Darlene Lebo also called it a “racially insensitive incident” in this message she sent to parents on Wednesday:
“The student’s actions are disappointing and not reflective of the St. Petersburg High School community,” she said. "This type of behavior is not acceptable and will not be tolerated at St. Petersburg High School ...
“St. Petersburg High School strives to be an inclusive place of learning where students and staff feel safe and respected, every day. I appreciate the individuals who made school leaders aware of the situation, so it could be addressed.”
The school’s racial makeup is similar to that of the district as a whole. According to enrollment numbers from 2018-19, 54 percent of the students at St. Petersburg High are white, 16.9 percent are black, 12.3 percent are Asian, 12.1 percent are Hispanic, and the rest are multiracial.