boynton-beach-cheerleaders-2.jpgBOYNTON BEACH — Eight African-American girls, who said they were the victims of racism when they were denied a spot on the cheerleading squad of a predominantly white Boynton Beach high school this spring, have rejected the school district’s latest offer to have the girls to audition for a second time for the squad in August. The girls, now being called the ‘Park Vista 8,’ had hoped after an investigation, that some of them would be added to the cheering team without an additional audition.

Natalia Arenas, a school district spokesperson, said the racism allegations were unfounded, and that there were measures in place to prevent bias; however, they will hold a second audition for the squad because the students should have been given more time to prepare for the try-outs.
Arenas said during previous years, the students had about three days of preparation and training, instead of the few hours of preparation they were granted prior to this year’s auditions.

Seven of the students, Dazne Rejouis, 14; Sabrina Augustin, 15; Nyla German, 15; Treasure Lewis, 15; Erica Lorenzo, 14; Maya Jean-Charles, 14 and Kalisha Andre, 15, claim they have been discriminated against and that racial slurs were hurled at some of them by fellow students. An eighth student has chosen not to participate in the protest because of her poor grades.

According to C. Shahid Freeman, a well-known educational and civil rights activist, who is the spokesperson for the students, some of the girls allege that several white students made the team despite failing to complete their drills during the auditions. The 8 contend that they were able to complete all of the drills. Arenas could neither substantiate nor deny their account.

Following the results of the auditions, the students drafted a petition to protest the results.  The girls have complained that their principal, Reggie Myers, has not been supportive of their cause. “If he is our color, but he is not there for us, that just hurts,” said Jean-Charles about Myers, who is black. Myers said in a statement to WPTV News Channel 5, that he tries to support and defend all of his students who feel they’ve been treated unfairly. School superintendent Bill Malone, after meeting with Myers, said Myers was unaware of the magnitude of the problem.

The students took their complaints to an official school board meeting on June 15. During the meeting, school board chairman Frank Barbieri, expressed outraged over the girls’ allegations and called for an immediate investigation. The school district arranged a meeting between the girls and their parents, and school officials on June 29, to come up with a solution. 

At the meeting, Myers proposed having another audition, but with changes and safeguards to assure fairness, school spokesperson Arenas said.  According to Arenas, another audition would be held in August, opening up four more slots on the squad. Seven of the girls would be eligible to try-out again, along with 16 others who did not make the initial squad.     Arenas said the new auditions would be videotaped and that the students would be selected by a diverse panel of judges.

Freeman has also had to address questions about the girls’ cheering capabilities, but he said two of the eight were previously on the junior varsity squad, which he said proves that they are able to meet the requirements of a cheerleader. But, he insists that trying out again is not the answer. He says the girls and their parents will reject that offer.  “They (the 8 girls) are not accepting that. They (the school district) know the system was flawed, and now they’re going to punish the girls by putting them through this and having them try out again? Absolutely not,” he said.

The students and their parents want at least six of the girls to be added to the team, without auditioning, said Freeman. “That would be the right thing to do. If they have these new try-outs, and four black girls are ‘mysteriously’ added to the team, then how is that going to look? That doesn’t seem feasible to me.”

School board member Marcia Andrews, who is African-American, said in an interview that the two sides don’t appear to have resolved the issue. “I think it’s still a work in progress. But I would like to see the racial makeup of the cheerleading squads in the county. I’d be interested in seeing those numbers,” said Andrews. “I’d like to know the diversity.”

According to enrollment data, Park Vista High School opened in 2003 and 61 percent of its nearly 3,000 students are white, 21 percent are Hispanic, and 11 percent are black.

Photo: C. Shahid Freeman