ESCONDIDO – The San Diego County Human Relations Commission (HRC) held a special meeting Monday night in response to a CIF championship basketball game last week that ended with individuals throwing tortillas at Orange Glen High School players.
The incident occurred immediately after the game on Saturday, June 19 when several unidentified people from the Coronado High student section started throwing tortillas at the Orange Glen players.
Orange Glen is a predominantly Hispanic school in Escondido — approximately 87% of its student body is Latino, according to US News and World Report.
At the special meeting, the HRC voted to move forward with recommendations proposed by Commissioner Pedro Ayana.
These include the expansion and support of the work of the District Attorney’s Youth Advisory Board to be able to address human relations issues, as well as exploring the establishment of a countywide youth leadership program to address human relations issues.
The HRC will also “identify county resources and referrals through other departments (I.e., Behavioral Health Services) that can be deployed during youth-related incidents of bias, bigotry, and racism to provide support as needed.”
Forty-year-old Coronado High alum Luke Serna came forward as the individual who brought the tortillas to the game.
In an unsigned letter to the Coronado Unified governing board, Serna claims there was “absolutely no racial intent” in tossing the tortillas at the end of the game.
Serna claims that this was a “celebratory action” meant to mimic traditions at UC Santa Barbara, where he attended college. Since the 90s, fans started throwing tortillas onto the basketball court after the Gauchos scored their first points, but the practice has since been banned, according to the university website.
Serna also goes on to defend Coronado High’s head basketball coach J.D. Laaperi who was terminated by the Coronado Unified School District’s (CUSD) board last Tuesday.
“Coach Laaperi is owed an apology by those who perpetrated this SMEAR and no discussion WHATSOEVER should take place of taking away his job as basketball coach or as a Silver Strand elementary teacher,” Serna wrote.
HRC Commissioner Rodney Fowler Sr. warned against excusing Serna’s behavior because he is Mexican American and because he claims his intent was not racial.
“He dismissed it; he took responsibility for bringing the tortillas, but somehow validated his actions by the fact that he is half Mexican American,” Fowler said. “The dismissiveness carries on to the fact that he did not realize or did not acknowledge the impact to those athletes that were at the school on both sides… the impact to their lives and the impact that they will carry on the rest of their days.”
The HRC said they will discuss details on carrying out these proposals at future meetings.
In the aftermath of the incident, the Escondido Union High School District (EUHSD) held a special board meeting on Thursday, June 24 and passed a resolution denouncing racism, racial discrimination, and support for equity, safety and well-being of all students.
“EUHSD denounces discrimination, racism, and negative sentiments against any group. We will not tolerate racist treatment of any members of our community, and we will speak out against racism and discriminatory practices in our society. EUHSD will confront the biases in our own school district and actively engage in the challenging work of dismantling the problematic practices that limit opportunities for our students,” the resolution reads in part.
California Sen. Ben Hueso, D-Chula Vista, also weighed in, calling on the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) to revoke Coronado High’s regional basketball championship in response to the incident.
“This intentional act was designed to be racist and should not now, nor ever, be tolerated,” Hueso wrote in a letter to the CIF. “Failure to impose swift and appropriate justice will become a tacit endorsement of the act itself by the CIF and violate CIF’s own principles of ethical character-building for student-athletes.”
The CIF confirmed Thursday they were still investigating the incident and would have a decision in the following week.
“The California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) fully appreciates the importance of this matter and the concerns involved. As previously stated, the CIF’s review process includes allowing each member high school and/or school district the opportunity to conduct an investigation into the incident and then provide the CIF with the results of their internal review. Upon receipt and review of the schools’ and/or school districts’ information, and further inquiry from this office if needed, the CIF will then determine what action is appropriate. The CIF is in the process of concluding our review, and unless circumstances dictate otherwise, we anticipate issuing the ruling of the CIF Executive Director during the upcoming week.”