Quakertown community comes together after racial incident
Date of publication: Oct. 10, 2017
By Christian Menno and Freda Savana, staff writers
The Intelligencer and Courier Times
As the national anthem played before Tuesday’s boys soccer game between Quakertown and Cheltenham, the players lined up to face the flag, each with a hand on the shoulder of the opposing player standing in front of him.
The display of respect and unity came in response to a racial incident during Friday evening’s football game between the two schools when Quakertown middle school students shouted racial slurs at Cheltenham cheerleaders and threw stones at their bus.
Several parents posted signs on the bleacher railings facing the Cheltenham team with expressions of support such as “Q-T Welcomes CHS,” “Q-Love to Cheltenham,” and “We are so sorry Cheltenham.”
Parent Jennifer Woods said she started crying when she heard several middle school students directed racial epithets toward the cheerleaders.
“I just thought that this does not speak, at all, about this community,” Woods said Wednesday, as she fought back tears while sitting next to her daughters Megan, 15, and Kara, 10. “I grew up here and I don’t raise my kids like that.”
The incident began before Quakertown's homecoming game in the stadium, when the middle school students were shouting at the cheerleaders, officials said. Quakertown Superintendent Bill Harner said those "immature actions" were not racial in nature. However, a security guard was placed with the cheerleaders and the officer told the boys to stop, Harner said. Some spectators said the cheerleaders were moved to another part of the field.
It was after the game, and outside the stadium, that the racial epithets began and stones were thrown at the cheerleaders' bus, according to Harner.
Megan Woods, who is a member of Quakertown’s marching band, said the school district is “a strong community ... good at coming together and showing unity.”
Parents were encouraged to bring signs to the game following a social media post from Karen Hammerschmidt, of Quakertown Community Outreach.
“We took this as an opportunity for the community to come together and to send out a positive message that this was just the action of a few individuals and it certainly doesn’t represent the heartbeat and the pulse of the rest of the community,” Hammerschmidt said. “We’re a very loving, accepting, inclusive community.”
Parent Shannan Herman said she moved to area 13 years ago and fell in love with it.
“We might not be the most diverse community out there, I understand that,” she said, “but it doesn’t mean that we don’t accept others. You can’t brush it under the rug because what does that say to the Cheltenham kids who were victims of that? Then how do we learn? How do we grow? We can’t unless we recognize where we’re going, what we’re doing wrong and how to make it better.”
Quakertown Community school board President Paul Stepanoff confirmed that two of the eighth-graders already had been disciplined and a third student also could face punishment. He declined to elaborate on what the disciplinary actions were.
“We’re getting right to the bottom of it and we're not going to put up with it,” Stepanoff said before the soccer game.
From the sidelines Wednesday, Harner said the community refuses to let the incident define it.
“This is beyond a teaching moment,” he added, as he looked up at the signs in the stands.
Earlier Tuesday, school district officials alerted parents to a troubling social media post.
The message indicated that violence would be needed "to stop these kids and their racism. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but nothing else is working," according to an email from Assistant Superintendent Nancianne Edwards.
Edwards said the author of the message is not from the area. The district consulted with local law enforcement, Edwards said, and officials did not see any immediate threat to the district's schools or students. "We will continue to practice our normal vigilance and safety protocols to keep all our students safe," she wrote in the email.