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Saturday, Mar 01 2014 11:30 PM

Handling of racial video contributed to Garces personnel change

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    Kathleen Bears will step down from the principal's position at Garces Memorial High School at the end of this school year.

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BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

Garces Memorial High School's principal is stepping down in part because of her delayed response to "very racial, hard things" one freshman said about another in a video posted online last year, a Diocese of Fresno official said Saturday.

Separately, the diocese said Garces Athletic Director Lela Steiber is leaving her position at the end of this school year. No explanation was provided, but the diocese official said Steiber's exit was unrelated to the racial video.

With regard to the school's top administrator stepping down, Richard Sexton, the diocese's superintendent of Catholic schools, said Principal Kathleen Bears ultimately acted "appropriately." He said the verbally abusive student was expelled, but "I think we could have responded faster."

The decision not to renew Bears's one-year contract as principal was made after a meeting between the diocese and representatives of the NAACP's Bakersfield chapter, which intervened in the matter on behalf of the victim's parents.

"The (diocese official) kept his word and the principal is no longer there," chapter President Patrick Jackson told a group gathered Saturday for the second annual State of African Americans in Kern County. He declined to elaborate after the event.

In fact, Bears remains principal at Garces, where she is expected to serve out the school year in that position before returning next school year as a full-time teacher.

Sexton asserted that there was never any promise to pressure Bears to step down.

"It could not be promised," he said.

The diocese announced Feb. 3 that Bears was stepping down as principal. It provided no explanation.

Sexton said the racial incident was not the only factor in the non-renewal of Bears's principal contract. He did not elaborate.

Bears could not be reached for comment.

Shirley Hill, a board member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Bakersfield chapter, said Bears tried to "sweep (the incident) under the rug," adding that the diocese was right to have the principal step down.

"I think that what happened was the right thing to do," Hill said.

Sexton said the racial statements stemmed from a football practice on campus in August. He said a Garces student made statements against another Garces student in a video posted on social media. The abusive student made similar statements to others, he said.

"It was racial in nature," he said. "It was one student saying very racial, hard things against another student."

Although Sexton said the school should have responded more quickly to the incident, he defended Bears's actions, saying school administrators have to follow a process before expelling a student.

"You must understand that even for us to expel a student, that is a tort issue and we need our lawyers and everyone on the same page, and it takes time to do that," he said.

"It's not an easy process. But this one could have been handled a little better."

Ultimately, the decision to expel the student was straightforward, Sexton said.

The abusive student "was not apologetic, and there was no way we could have him at our school, because we really do value the kids of color at our school."

Series of personnel changes

Steiber, who served as athletic director for the past five years, could not be reached for comment.

In a written statement issued 12 hours after Garces's girls soccer team lost 1-0 to Frontier High in Friday's Central Section Division II championship game at Titan Stadium, Sexton said Steiber will return to teaching full time as a member of the school's faculty.

He thanked her for her "tireless commitment" to Garces's athletic program.

"Mrs. Steiber spent long hours to make the athletic program very successful and put her heart into serving the needs of the coaches, parents and student athletes," Sexton's statement read. "Her pursuit for athletic excellence and enormous commitment has set a high standard of performance that will be hard to fill."

Bears's and Steiber's reassignments are the latest in a series of high-profile departures at Garces in recent years.

Head football coach Jim Maples was fired in January after two years on the job. He had been placed on administrative leave last summer pending an investigation into possible recruiting violations.

Maples and seven other Garces football coaches filed a claim in December against Kern High School District, the Kern County Superintendent of Schools and the CIF Central Section. They alleged the three entities used and spread information from a private conversation that was illegally recorded.

Garces also fired longtime swimming coach Bill Potter in January. The stated reason was "violating Catholic code." Potter said the termination was without cause.

Many alumni and supporters were upset in 2009 when football coach David Fanucchi resigned -- some claim he was forced out -- and his older brother, Vince Fanucchi, was demoted from the position of boys athletic director.

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