Tanque Verde students arrested for racial graffiti

KOLD News 10-10:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Apr. 1, 2022 at 10:25 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The Pima County Sheriff’s Department confirmed the arrest of four Tanque Verde high school students.

It happened last week at Tanque Verde Elementary School.

Minority families have come forward about what say is rampant, overt racism happening in the district for years with little or no effort to stop it.

Some families have launched a letter campaign calling for the superintendent to resign.

The district doesn’t deny there’s an issue with racism but families and at least one board member now question how much the superintendent has kept the board and the community in the dark on how deep racism runs in the district.

It was captured on surveillance cameras: Graffiti spray painted on the walls and a table in the Tanque Verde Elementary School lunch room.

The graffiti included a swastika, and happened after midnight on March 20.

The Pima County sheriff’s department reports reveal five juveniles were involved, both boys and girls. One hasn’t been identified.

Three of the students currently attend Tanque Verde High School, and one is a former student.

Two are caught doing the spray painting, while the others watched.

One juvenile painted the swastika.

Tanque Verde board member Vieri Tenuta said earlier this week he didn’t have information about the vandalism, but he should have.

“It’s really disappointing that you’re telling me this, because I did not know that that was happening,” he said to KOLD News 13 investigative reporter Valarie Cavazos.

He said he feels he’s getting “sanitized” information, if any information at all, on such incidents.

“Maybe it’s a systemic problem at the school board level where we aren’t able to get the right information,” he said. “And that’s also why I think that we need to review those communication lines and how that communication procedure is when it comes to instances like this.”

Two juveniles face aggravated criminal damage charges. The other two have been charged with second-degree criminal trespassing.

According to the incident report, the one who drew the swastika will be suspended long-term.

The district released a statement on Friday, April 1, calling the actions of those involved “abhorrent” and “completely unacceptable.”

District leaders said in the statement that racism and harassments will not be tolerated, and they plan to take action to address the racial intolerance in its schools.

But this isn’t the only incident this year involving high school students.

A sheriff’s school resource officer director said a district leader told the student resource officer at the time racial remarks had been made in a locker room in October.

Tenuta did know about that incident, in which he was told by the district that racial slurs were sent via text message. From what he understands, he said, there it was not immediately clear whether the district could hold students or staff accountable for things that happen outside of school.

But from his perspective, Tenuta said, the use of racial slurs isn’t appropriate in any situation.

“I believe that, you know, we could have at least done more to educate students on this is behavior that shouldn’t be allowed and is not something that is acceptable at all,” he said.

Tanque Verde High School athletic director Gary Lewis who also released a statement Friday, said the racism comments took place in a group chat between members of the school’s varsity football team.

Once he became aware of the comments, Lewis said, he immediately shut down the group chat, admonished the entire team and denounced the racism included in those messages.

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