A California high school has taken disciplinary action against at least 10 students after they spelled out racist and anti-gay messages on T-shirts at a senior event last week.
Last Thursday, a group of seniors at Escondido High School, near San Diego, took photos wearing lettered shirts that spelled out slurs like "nigger" and "fags" while at a senior picnic.
The school hosts the event annually and allows students to wear shirts that spell out preapproved words for a senior photo. But this year, several students decided to pull letters from other words to form the offensive slogans, and then posted photos of the stunt on Snapchat and Instagram.
Escondido police said Monday that the department is not taking any action against the students or filing any criminal charges.
The images stunned and angered their classmates, as well as alumni, who screenshot the posts and reshared them on social media platforms, condemning the actions.
Cade Pannell, who graduated from Escondido High School two years ago, saw a video of the students on one of his Snapchat stories on Thursday and said he was "shocked it came from my high school." The 19-year-old snapped a photo and posted it on Instagram, where it quickly went viral.
After seeing the images, school and district officials, aided by police, investigated the incident and subsequently took action against the students involved. It is not clear, however, what kind of punishment the students will face for their actions at the picnic.
"I want to assure you that actions have been taken and students are receiving consequences; however, specifics must remain confidential," Escondido High School's Principal Adriana Lepe-Ramirez, said in a statement Sunday. "We believe the lessons to be learned need to, and can, far exceed a period of punishment."
"Together, we have begun the process of educating all on the implications and power of one’s actions and decisions," Lepe-Ramirez said. "This will be a continuing process and I will provide updates throughout the year."
Pannell and several other Escondido students told BuzzFeed News that the behavior at the picnic was surprising and out of character for the school's student body.
"Racism is definitely not a problem at our high school," Nyla McGlory, an Escondido High senior who was at the event last week, told BuzzFeed News Sunday night. "A few students decided to spell out some dumb stuff to be funny in the moment, I guess, but that's not us or what most of us believe. Nothing like this has ever really happened before."
According to the students who spoke to BuzzFeed News, the punishments for those involved ranged from suspensions to being kicked out of all sports, clubs, and school-related organizations, and being barred from walking at graduation.
In an interview with the Free Hugs Project on YouTube, one of the high schoolers involved apologized for taking part in the racist prank, explaining that the group had been "hyping it up thinking it was going to be so cool and funny."
"I am scared to go back to school but I am going to try and show people that's not who I really am because that's for sure not who I want to be," she said. "I want to show people that's not right. I've learned from my mistakes."