FORT MILL — Two parents, a Rock Hill attorney and members of the Anti-Defamation League all say a lack of education not blatant hatred sparked a fight on a Fort Mill Middle School bus several weeks ago in which a 15-year-old middle school student was apparently targeted because of his Jewish ancestry.
Caspian Driscoll, an eighth grade middle school student and former football player, said he asked his teammates to quiet down so he could call his grandmother and wish her a happy birthday after a Yellow Jackets game Oct. 10.
Thats when several of his teammates began making lewd sexual jokes about his grandmother and Adolf Hitler. The heckling escalated into an anti-Semitic tirade. One teammate, 13, pushed Caspian into his seat and said, Sit down, Jew.
Caspian, his five siblings and both his parents are Christians. His father, Jim, is an ordained minister and his mother, Mims, raised in Orthodox Judaism, converted to Christianity at 19.
On the bus, Caspian and the other teen exchanged shoves and punches. Caspian said he was trying to get off the bus. Once the fight was over, school administrators placed him under suspension for three days, in line with the schools no-tolerance policy against violence, and kicked him off the football team.
That policy irks the Driscoll parents, who say their son was unjustly suspended for defending himself. The school district hasnt made attempts to apologize for the assault and slurs, they say.
The school district claims all students involved were disciplined according to policies against bullying and harassment. Officials will not say what that discipline entailed, but according to school policy, punishment for student violators is at the principals discretion.
Fort Mill Middle School Principal Greg Norton could not be reached Thursday.
Blanket no-tolerance punishment isnt effective when theres no common sense to back it up, said Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services in Cleveland, Ohio.
Trump said most school administrators seek firm, fair and consistent discipline applied with common sense. Sometimes, they leave out the last part, he said.
If you take the suspend-everyone approach, that provides school administrators an easy-out from making controversial, difficult decisions, he said. Its a lot easier to just suspend everyone ... rather than investigate, weed out the facts and make a hard call.
Easy choices, Trump said, can be troublesome if the facts of an investigation show one side was clearly at fault. The Driscolls side of the story has only been told, Trump said, and the school district is muzzled, unable to betray student privacy to publicly defend itself.
...There are legitimate privacy considerations that prevent school administrators from coming out publicly and telling all details of individual discipline, he said.
If only one student is completely to blame, as a father myself, I would expect the school officials to take a stand and not twice victimize my child, Trump said.
The fight is a shameful and shocking example of bigotry out of control, said Bill Nigut, director for the Southeast region of the Anti-Defamation League, a group formed after Jewish factory supervisor Leo Frank was convicted of killing Mary Phagan in 1913. He was lynched by a mob two years later.
This is 2012. We dont accept this kind of hatred in our world today, said Nigut, himself Jewish. It (anti-Semitism) still rears its ugly head. Its hard to underestimate how deeply that penetrates to our core.
So much of bullying comes from putting people down because theyre different, said Holli Levinson, educational director for the ADL. The South is different in that there is such a religious Christian majority that, if youre not that, you stick out.
Both Nigut and Levinson said education alone without consequences wouldnt do much. Schools should make sure theres a clear reporting process with clear consequences after a student is bullied. Levinson also suggests a zero-indifference policy education with the punishment and not just the punishment that contrasts a zero-tolerance policy.
Fort Mill school district policy suggests victims of bullying report their claims so an investigation can begin. Sugar Creek Elementary School is the only school in the state to receive the ADLs no place for hate designation, spokeswoman Kelly McKinney said.
Still, the ADL has plans to contact the school district and talk with officials on ways to implement training and programs that will help them address anti-Semitism, Nigut said. Were not interested in pointing a finger. We want to be of help.
Amid her sons ordeal, Mims Driscoll has taken to social media to vent her displeasure with the school district and bullying. Shes posted several YouTube videos on the situation. Shes organized a petition on Change.org, a social justice website that collects electronic signatures. By Thursday, she had 119 supporters. She created a Facebook page called, Im the Mom, with 241 likes.
Shes also reached out to the S.C. Council on the Holocaust, a 12-member, state-funded board that supports education about the Holocaust.
Selden Smith, a 82-year-old member of the council born and raised in York but now living in Columbia, said he never encountered anti-Semitism in York County, but he was aware of black/white relationships. That was clear to me.
Smith called the incident on the Fort Mill school bus depressing.
(The boys) didnt get all the messages from whatever school on the historical examination of the Holocaust ... they didnt learn all the lessons somebody was trying to offer, he said.
Operating on a fixed budget, the council is prepared to help the district supplement education, Smith said, by putting them in contact with people and organizations willing to provide books, video and other resources to teach about the Holocaust and prejudice.
My guess, its not one of those things that next week or the week after next theyll call some kind of conference and discuss the violence on the bus, he said. I think it might be a longer-term thing.
Like Smith, Jack Leaders never personally encountered anti-Semitism in York County. Leader, an attorney, lived in Rock Hill with his parents, who opened a department store on Main Street in the 1930s, when there were 12 to 19 Jewish families living in the city.
About Caspian Driscolls situation, Leader said: Thats a shame, but thats not the kind of anti-Semitism that would disturb me to the core. Thats just kids being mean. A lot of them dont appreciate the significance of the kind of scar that can leave on somebody.
During the Holocaust, the Leaders had family in Europe. Leaders father fought in World War II. (The Holocaust) is a part of my life, he said.
He understands the school districts policy, saying Caspians incident wasnt the first time someone got suspended for defending themselves. But, he said, theres an exception to the rule.
There are misgivings about who Jewish people are and what theyre about, Leader said.
As for the Driscolls, These people dont practice Judaism; theyre Christians. Hes (Caspian) related to a grandmother whos Jewish. Its almost like he has no advantage.
In 2006, Jonathan Shaw his wife Bonnie and daughter Micaela, now 14, moved to Lake Wylie from Tucson, Ariz., an area with a diverse ethnic, cultural and religious population. It was a jarring transition.
The first question (people) ask you is what church do you go to, Shaw said.
When Micaela Shaw was a third-grader at Bethel Elementary in Clover school district, one of her schoolmates ran up to her on the playground and said her grandmother told her she had to spit in Micaelas face because the 7-year-old girl was Jewish, Jonathan Shaw said.
After that incident, Jonathan Shaw, past president of the Temple Kol Ami synagogue in Fort Mill, decided to teach his daughters classmates about Hanukkah, show them a menorah and show them how to play a dradel.
They just had no idea what it was, Shaw said about many of the students who ran up to him after his demonstrations and called Hanukkah a fun holiday.
This isnt coming up from these kids making up this stuff on their own, he said. There needs to be learning here. How do the youth of the community understand what people go through when theyre not exposed to the diversity and differences in people?
It was painful to see what that family (the Driscolls) went through and to hear the words of that mother, said Bonnie Shaw, Jonathan Shaws wife and principal at Fort Mills Ivybrook Academy.
It rarely comes from just a child, she said. It comes from being taught and not being led by example. They learn from their families its a lack of knowledge and education.
These boys just didnt know, she said about the incident. They dont realize that words are so painful and words can do so much damage.
Jonathan McFadden 803-329-4082