No bias in cheerleading tryouts

Palm Beach County School District Superintendent Bill Malone said he found "no evidence of any race-based bias" in the recent cheerleading tryouts at Park Vista High School.

But he has decided to have the Boynton Beach school add a second cheerleading coach and create spaces for the more than 20 students who didn't make the original team, following allegations from eight black students that they were not picked for the team because of their race.

In a two-page letter sent to Park Vista and other district administrators as well as members of the district's school board, Malone said the district will pay a coaching supplement for this year only for an additional junior varsity coach to accommodate the additional cheerleaders. The district also will pay for new school-supplied uniforms for the added cheerleaders.

In all, the additional costs total less than $15,000, Malone said in his letter. He noted in an email that he doesn't intend to negotiate this issue any further.

"I'm pleased to hear that the superintendent has concluded that there was no race bias in the selection process for the cheerleading squad, and I'm equally happy to be able to go ahead and move forward with this particular issue," Reginald Myers, the school's principal, said today. "I have to respect and honor the superintendent's position. I have to leave it at that."

C. Shahid Freeman, a community organizer who has been working with the students who brought up the bias allegations, said that his initial thought on Malone's decision is that it will help bring closure to the issue, but he said he is waiting to hear responses from the girls and their parents.

"There's a better feeling in the air now than there was before," Freeman said. "The superintendent came up with a solution that's middle of the road. It's a civilized solution that makes sense."

But he disputed Malone's statement that there was no bias in the selection process. "He doesn't want to admit, 'Hey, we made a mistake,'" Freeman said of Malone.

According to Malone's letter, although none of the eight black students who tried out for the fall cheerleading team was selected, other minorities did make the team. He said that, of six Hispanic girls who tried out, two made the varsity team. In addition, one multi-racial student made the varsity team, as did one American Indian.

In all, 23 girls who tried out for the cheerleading squad May 21 did not make the roster of 36. At least one of those girls may be academically ineligible for the squad, Malone said.

The allegations of racism first arose on June 15, when Freeman, the eight black students and their parents raised the issue before the Palm Beach County School Board .

On June 29, Park Vista High's principal and athletic director met privately with the parents and students, offering to open four new spots on the fall cheerleading team and allow all students who had not made the team to try out again. A week later, the black cheerleading hopefuls rejected the offer.

Malone said in the letter that the district's Division of Safety and Learning Environment will go into the school at the beginning of this school year to "evaluate the situation and develop a plan, if necessary, to resolve" any potential issues of racism or bullying at the school.

He said that, during his investigation into the issue, he found "no evidence to justify voiding the (cheerleader) selection process. To void the selection process would imply that the process was not objective, not honest, and that race-based bias may have played a part in the outcome. ... I simply cannot find evidence that would logically lead to cancelling the tryouts and starting over."

The issue has become a talking point for many in the community, with current and former cheerleaders offering their perspective and county residents weighing in with their thoughts on both sides of the debate.

"It's been a long month," the school's athletic director Pam Romero said today, saying she is glad that the superintendent found no evidence of racism. "We are all ready to move forward."