WASHINGTON (CNN) — A weekend incident with racial overtones at a high school for deaf students could result in criminal charges with “enhanced penalties for a hate crime,” Metro Police Chief Cathy Lanier said Wednesday. A black student was held against his will and then released with “KKK” and swastikas drawn on him in marker at the Model Secondary School for the Deaf on Sunday, she said.
No charges have been filed, and no names have been released, Lanier said. The incident began when a group of black students and a group of white students were in a dorm. “My understanding is the two groups engaged in friendly horseplay,” she said. But, she said, the groups got “angry with each other.”
The two groups separated, she said, but later, six white students and one black student — all between the ages of 15 and 19 — took one of the black students into a dorm room and “held him there against his will.” “They used markers to write ‘KKK’ and draw swastikas on the student,” Lanier said.
The student was released after about 45 minutes. He notified dorm and school authorities, who called police. Lanier said police have identified and interviewed the students involved and the “investigation is ongoing.”
“The support we’ve received from the campus and from the school employees has been tremendous,” Lanier said. “And I think they’re supporting us in making a very strong statement that this investigation may lead to charges that could have enhanced penalties for a hate crime.”
The school is a residential high school on the campus of Gallaudet University, a higher education facility for deaf and hard of hearing people. The high school is administered as a division of the university’s Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center.
Dean of Clerc Center Katherine A. Jankowski said the seven students who participated in the incident were sent home. Gallaudet provost Stephen Weiner said the school does “not tolerate any action, behavior of this type.” “We are taking action,” he said. “We are looking at programs to help students understand we are a school with a diverse population.”
“This incident is intolerable,” he said. “That’s why the Metro police are involved. That’s how serious we are about this incident.” Jankowski said the school has also hired a consultant to work with the school and its students on diversity issues.
On Monday, teachers and staff hosted a school-wide assembly with students related to the incident, said Jankowski. Individual and group counseling services were also available to students, teachers and staff. “We are committed to ensuring MSSD is a safe and supportive learning environment,” she said