ROSEVILLE . (AP) — A group of high school students is suspected of a hate crime after officials say the teens spread cotton balls on the front lawn of an African-American classmate’s home.
The 13 students at Oakmont High School have been referred to the juvenile justice system for the Nov. 23 incident in the Sacramento suburb of Roseville, the Sacramento Bee reported. The newspaper says the cotton balls evoke images of slavery, upsetting the targeted student and his family, who reported it to police.
The school is planning community meetings to discuss racism, said Brad Basham, a Roseville Joint Union High School District spokesman.
“What happened to this family is disgusting,” he said. “Certainly we should know better.”
The students each face a misdemeanor charge under the state law that bars “terrorizing with hate symbols,” said Roseville police spokeswoman Dee Dee Gunther, adding that the case has been turned over to the Placer County district attorney’s office.
The school couldn’t directly discipline the students for their actions because it happened off campus, but Basham said some of the students were suspended from sports for several weeks after an investigation found they had used drugs or alcohol at the time. Officials didn’t name the students because they are juveniles.
This act appeared racially motivated, Gunther said, because the investigation found that some students previously had used racial slurs against the targeted student. The majority of Oakmont students are white, and the school has a black population of fewer than 4 percent, the newspaper reports.
Many of the students facing the hate crime charge are enrolled in Oakmont’s International Baccalaureate program, which emphasizes cultural awareness and prepares students for life in a global society, said Basham, who called the incident a wakeup call for the district.
Oakmont junior Nicole Herrera, who was not among the 13 students, said she and her friends believed the response by authorities was excessive.
“It wasn’t meant to be racist,” Herrera said. “It was a joke.”
The Roseville incident happened the night before a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, exonerated a white police officer in the shooting death of 19-year-old Michael Brown, igniting racial tensions nationwide.