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Clarence schools end slur-linked suspension; Superintendent cites 'additional' info

The Clarence School District has lifted its suspension of a Middle School girls lacrosse team that was accused of using racial slurs in a game against Sweet Home.

"Given additional information that has surfaced as a result of a more extensive investigation, including discussions with Clarence parents and the superintendent at Sweet Home, we are immediately resuming the girls' modified lacrosse season," Clarence Superintendent Geoffrey M. Hicks said in a statement released Friday.

Clarence's reversal capped a tumultuous week in the district, which began with Monday's announcement that the team would be suspended from play for four games. The team of 23 seventh- and eighth-grade girls was told it could continue practicing but its members would have to attend a diversity awareness program.

District officials met with parents Tuesday to discuss the disciplinary measure, and Hicks continued to meet with parents about the issue in the days that followed.

Parents forcefully objected to the suspension, arguing the district's initial investigation was rushed and incomplete. Clarence players and their parents denied the girls used racially offensive language in the April 26 game, which Clarence won, 18-4.

"It is now clear that, had the initial investigation produced the critical information we currently have, it would have given us a better understanding of the incident," Hicks said. "It is unfortunate that the girls and our community have been portrayed unfairly. I will meet with the team and discuss how this can be a learning experience for all."

Clarence will attempt to reschedule the two games that were lost to the suspension.

A letter from Hicks was delivered Friday to parents of team members. Its content was similar to Hicks' statement to the media, but it did not explain what "additional information" led him to lift the suspension. Hicks would not comment beyond his statement.

Plans for team members to attend a diversity awareness program from the National Federation of Just Communities will go forward.

"I continue to believe that our lacrosse team can benefit from participating in diversity and leadership sessions," Hicks said.

School administrators launched their investigation after parents of three Sweet Home players emailed Hicks on April 27, alleging some of the Clarence team members had uttered the N-word at Sweet Home players.

Hicks said Monday there was conflicting testimony and no Clarence player admitted using the racial epithet in the game, but he felt there was "enough here to warrant a reaction on our part."

Clarence parents contended their daughters were falsely accused and argued the Sweet Home girls had used racially charged insults in the game as the score became lopsided.

On Friday, Christopher A. Cardillo, a lawyer with Damon Morey who represented several parents of Clarence players, said his clients were "extremely happy that [Hicks] has taken the time to do a more thorough investigation."

A Sweet Home district spokesman did not return calls to comment Friday on Clarence's decision.

But Sweet Home officials this week took a closer look at their players' conduct at the Clarence game. District officials had interviewed their players on April 27, Superintendent Anthony J. Day previously told The Buffalo News.

It's not clear whether the Sweet Home girls were asked in their initial interviews whether they engaged in name-calling, or whether they denied using inappropriate language.

Either way, district officials do not believe their players engaged in name-calling.

Sweet Home officials didn't learn of those allegations until after school let out Monday, Feldmann said. Because Tuesday was a superintendent's conference day, students weren't in school, so district officials didn't begin reinterviewing the lacrosse players until Wednesday and Thursday.

The outcome of Sweet Home's investigation was unclear Friday.

email: mglynn@buffnews.com and swatson@buffnews.com