PLEASANT VIEW, Weber County — A northern Utah school district is considering its next steps as officials look into a social media video showing five female students gleefully shouting a racial slur in chorus.
The video, which shows five teenage girls in a car chanting a profane word followed by a racial slur, spread rapidly across social media Monday night. By morning, Weber School District spokesman Lane Findlay said the teens all had been identified as Weber High students, including three cheerleaders.
"Behavior like this, whatever their intentions were, whether they were just goofing around or whatever, it's unacceptable. It just can't happen," he said. "We just want people to know it will be taken very seriously, and appropriate action will be taken."
Additionally, Findlay added in written statement later, the video does not justify threats toward the girls and their families.
"Hatred only breeds more hatred. These are teenagers who made a big mistake, and they will be held (accountable). Please be patient and reasonable as we deal with this situation," Findlay said.
In the widely circulated 10-second video, the smiling girls — all of whom are white — are seen chanting a phrase that includes an offensive term for African-Americans, sometimes individually and other times in unison.
According to Findlay, the video was recorded a year ago while the girls were together during fall break. To make the video, Findlay said they recorded themselves saying gibberish, which when played backward through an app sounds like a racial slur.
Now, a year later, one of the girls shared the video through a private post on social media, Findlay said. Other students who viewed the video reposted it to other social media sites.
Findlay, who estimated he watched the video more than a dozen times Monday evening, said while it initially appears the teens may be saying the vulgarity outright, upon closer inspection, their lip movement and pronunciation seems "slightly off."
"You watch it and it does appear they're engaged and involved in it. It doesn't appear it was accidental by any means," he said.
Behavior like this, whatever their intentions were, whether they were just goofing around or whatever, it's unacceptable. It just can't happen.
–Lane Findlay, Weber School District
Derek Olsen of Plain City was going about his afternoon Monday when a friend sent him the girls' post, telling him, "You need to see this."
As an African-American man, what Olsen saw bothered him deeply. But it also made him concerned that the girls in the video, all of whom appeared fairly young, were about to face a firestorm of backlash.
"I believe they didn't mean any harm," Olsen said. "I believe they're good girls and they didn't have any ill intentions, it was just a joke. But as far as people taking it and perceiving it that way, it really offended a lot of people."
Olsen posted the video on his own social media, sharing his thoughts. He had grown up being called such slurs, and now as a father of two children, often worries what they will face during their lives. Racism remains a problem across the country, he said, for people of many ethnic backgrounds.
"I believe that if we can all understand and still spread awareness that racism does exist, then maybe we can go about it a certain way and change things," Olsen said, adding, "we can all learn from this."
After seeing the video, Olsen doesn't believe the girls should be punished, and they especially shouldn't become targets of hatred themselves.
"I don't want these teenagers to have their lives ruined because of a mistake they made," Olsen said. "They deserve to move on from this and they deserve to have a bright future."
Though the recording wasn't made during school hours or on school property, the school district is looking into the video because of the disruption it has caused the school, Findlay said. As of Tuesday, administrators had spoken to three of the five girls, all of whom were apologetic for the video, Findlay said.
While the girls haven't been suspended, they were asked to remain home from school Tuesday as the situation was reviewed and school officials begin meeting with them and their parents, Findlay said. As the school district considers consequences for the video, "everything is on the table," he said, from suspension to removal from extracurricular activities.
"Even if it did happen outside of school, they're still students (and) some of them are cheerleaders. There are codes of conduct that apply to students, and so when you have an incident like this, it can cause a disruption of the school and can affect the school, so it's something we will be looking into," Findlay said.
Additionally, Weber High's principal met with faculty Tuesday morning to update them on the situation and address concerns that other students likely would be upset by the video.
"We want to make sure that there are resources for students here at he school who may have some concerns or may need to talk to someone about that," Findlay said, noting that school counselors are available and student members of the Hope Squad are watching for any of their peers who may be in need of help.
Findlay said he hopes other youths will learn from the situation. While they should always be aware of the impact of the things they say and how they act, they must also realize that once they put something on social media, there is no taking it back, he said.
"We're not really sure what the intent was behind the video being made, but obviously the impact of it has been very negative," Findlay said. "So when you look at the situation, you hope it would be learning experience — not just for these girls, but for other kids who see that, even though this is a 10-second video, the consequences could be long term."
Contributing: Mike Anderson