My local paper, The Daily Local, took the unusual step this Sunday of putting its lead editorial on the front page, at the top. “Coatesville Area School Board must step down,” the headline said, referring to that board’s failure to act decisively in response to the scandal roiling the school district neighboring ours. That scandal is outlined in the accompanying A1 story by Local reporters Michael Price and Kristina Scala, “A District in Crisis: CASD officials exchanged racially charged text messages; board knew.”
The abrupt departure of the Coatesville Area School District superintendent and another senior administrator came two weeks after numerous exchanges of inappropriate and racially charged text messages were discovered on their district-issued cell phones, and multiple sources have indicated that school board officials were not only aware of the exchanges, but were prepared to allow the pair to remain in their positions until the conduct prompted a criminal investigation, the Daily Local News has learned.
The Coatesville Area School Board is expected to formally vote to approve the resignations of former Superintendent Richard Como and former Director of Athletics and Activities Jim Donato at Tuesday’s public meeting. Como announced his “retirement” through a letter posted on the district’s website on August 29. Reports of Donato’s resignation surfaced several days later. Both came unexpectedly during the first week of the school year.
“Racially charged” is a too-restrained euphemism. The texts exchanged by Como and Donato were simply racist. And sexist. The superintendent and athletic director expressed gleeful contempt for black students, all females, Jews, Hispanics and Muslims.
You can read a transcript of some of those texts here. The Local has posted those transcripts with a warning about “strong racial language that readers may find offensive.” That warning is, again, inaccurately understated. It’s not “strong racial language,” it’s just racist language and sexist language and anti-Semitic language. And it’s not something that readers may find offensive, but something that is offensive.
The local firestorm over this has focused on the giggling racism exchanged by Como and Donato, and that’s understandable. But the misogyny and rape language is just as disturbing, and it’s woven throughout their “conversations.” Their standard term for female students and teachers is “piece” and they’re seething with resentment that, as white men, they’re denied the free use and abuse of women’s bodies in the way that both seem to think is their entitlement.
The Chester County DA is conducting an investigation into what, if any, criminal charges may be brought against the two officials. Criminal charges will be the least of the school district’s problems. Richard Como has been the CASD superintendent since 2005, and his texts with Donato include discussions of the hiring and firing of teachers, with the two celebrating the layoffs of black staff as “good hangings.” Every teacher, coach and administrator in the district who was laid off or denied a promotion in the past eight years now has powerful grounds for a winning lawsuit.
One of the transcripts between the superintendent and the athletic director is of the texts they exchanged while apparently watching the Miss America pageant on television. I saw dozens of articles and posts collecting and condemning the horrifically racist and sexist tweets sent during that pageant, but now I think I underestimated their meaning. I assumed these were the ravings of the ignorant and the powerless — people whose racial resentment was in part the result of their own powerlessness and economic insecurity. But Como and Donato are wealthy, educated people. (Como’s starting salary in 2005 was $155,000 a year. By 2010 that was up to $193,000.) And yet their texts expose them as miserable creatures of resentment.
This is how two wealthy, powerful, educated white men talk when they think no one else is listening. That’s not just something that you “may find offensive.” That’s something that you should find terrifying.