The student posted an apology Monday afternoon.
SARASOTA, Fla. — A Sarasota student who asked his girlfriend to prom with a racist sign apologized, according to an image provided by the school district, and his family later released a statement apologizing as well, saying he would not participate in any more school functions, including prom and graduation.
The student, 18-year-old Riverview High senior Noah Crowley, garnered national attention for his prom proposal to his girlfriend with a sign that read, “If I was black I’d be picking cotton, but I’m white so I’m picking u 4 prom?” The female student sent an image of Crowley’s sign via Snapchat with a caption of two heart-eye emojis.
Crowley used the same platform, Snapchat, to apologize on Monday, based on a widely spread image on social media of what appears to be a lengthy apology the district said was written by Crowley.
“I want to sincerely apologize if I have offended anyone with the picture going around,” reads the photo caption, thought to be written by Crowley. “That was not my intention. Anyone who knows me or … knows that that’s not how we truly feel. It was a complete joke and it went too far. After reading the texts and Snapchats I truly see how I have offended people and I’m sorry.”
The Crowley family released a statement via email Tuesday evening, apologizing for its son’s conduct.
“While our son has apologized himself, on behalf of our family, we wish to also express our most sincere apologies for the terrible words used in his ‘promposal.’ We love our son dearly and know that he is a far better person than reflected in this reckless behavior,” the statement read. “That said, as loving parents, we also feel compelled to share our own deep regret and serious concern about his actions.”
The family says that it decided, along with Riverview administrators, that Crowley will not attend any further school activities or functions, including prom and graduation.
“As a family, we truly recognize this incident is a very difficult but important life lesson and pledge to do all we can to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again,” the statement reads. “Certainly, we hope that all of the people and communities who were hurt and offended will forgive our son and family.”
Crowley could not be personally reached for comment through a Facebook message, and a call to a phone number believed to be associated with his father was not returned.
Two Riverview students, seniors Reagan Fox and Anton Kernohan, who are involved with gun control activism at the school, also released a statement Monday night, writing that it was “on behalf of Riverview’s student body.”
“The simple wording of this extremely inappropriate racial slur has shocked the majority of the Riverview student population along with much of our administration,” the students wrote. “It is absolutely disheartening that opinions such as these are still present in current generations. It shows that racism is still alive and thriving and that there needs to be a continuation of fighting for equality to rid of this hate once and for all.”
But Fox and Kernohan praised the administration for handling the sign “in an excellent and appropriate manner, as they typically do with issues like this.”
Riverview administrators have gathered a group of students from each grade to “begin solving the problem of racism” within the school, they wrote.
“These divides and tensions, especially within the last few weeks, are growing and they need to be suppressed immediately,” Fox and Kernohan wrote in their release. “Hopefully, whatever solution we come up with, we will accomplish this.”
The students’ response comes in stark contrast to a Facebook post that circulated Sunday night from Erin Williams, who has said in other interviews that she is a graduating senior at the school.
Her post details what she called a “race war” occurring at Riverview, including multiple incidents where a student had a banana thrown at him and black students were called monkeys and the n-word in a social media post.
“All of which RIVERVIEW STAFF and administration knows about and has done nothing,” Williams wrote Sunday. “They’re letting these kids walk freely around expressing racism and told us, ‘If you touch anyone, we will suspend you and not let you graduate.’ This is what Riverview High School is letting their students do and basically telling us black kids to deal with it.”
Her post has been shared more than 1,400 times on Facebook and received almost 600 comments from Facebook users. One of the original tweets depicting the Snapchat image of Crowley and his prom sign has been retweeted more than 16,000 times and liked more than 25,000 times.
The investigation into Crowley’s conduct is ongoing, district spokeswoman Tracey Beeker said. But she added that she could not comment on what disciplinary outcomes might be recommended at this point because of student privacy laws.
Although the Herald-Tribune asked to speak with Riverview Principal Kathy Wilks, Beeker said she was unavailable for comment. Beeker instead focused on how the district plans to go forward.
“Yesterday, the school district held a really formal conversation with a cross-section of students. Those students talked to us about things like socioeconomic divide, racial, ethnic and gender inequalities. In addition, some of the students voiced their concerns about racial tensions at the school,” Beeker said. “What the school district is going to be working on, especially with Trevor Harvey with the NAACP, is to be able to learn more from our students and to come up with a good course of action. We want students to know that we’re listening to them and we’re hearing them.”
Superintendent Todd Bowden did not respond to a request for comment.
Based on data the district provided to the Florida Department of Education for the 2016-17 school year, more than 67 percent of Riverview’s student population is white, almost 17 percent Hispanic and 8 percent black.
While local NAACP chapter president Trevor Harvey has said he plans to work with the school district to facilitate conversations on race, Black Lives Matter Manasota president Shakira Refos said those discussions need to be “uncomfortable” to inspire people to change.
Conversations about race on a district-level are often cloaked in other terms, like “underserved populations” and “the achievement gap,” which refers to the discrepancies in academic performance between students of varying racial groups and socioeconomic status. But Refos said people need to talk about their actions and not just “meritocracies.”
She added that, unlike other civic issues, people often have difficulty talking about race because they can’t put the blame on something totally outside of themselves.
“People don’t want to talk about racism because it makes them uncomfortable,” she said. “They’re comfortable talking about gun issues because they can point at other things in their community or their surroundings. But when you start dissecting the root cause of racism and racist behavior, white people don’t want to have that discussion, and that’s why they don’t listen to black kids — because it will open up a discussion that they don’t want to have.”
Elizabeth Djinis is a reporter for the Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune.