A school official’s unbelievably racist texts

Tip to bigots: Don't text on your work-issued phone

Topics: Race, Education, Coatesville Area School District, Richard Como, Jim Donato,

A school official's unbelievably racist texts (Credit: B Calkins via Shutterstock)

Not your best moment, Keystone State. Just last week, Pennsylvania was in the news when gun-loving small town police chief Mark Kessler’s expletive-infused rants against “libtards” went viral – and cost him his job. Now, Coatesville Area School District superintendent Richard Como and Director of Athletics and Activities Jim Donato have gained national attention for their abrupt departures from their positions – and the slew of hateful and racist messages discovered on their district-issued cell phones. Board president Neil Campbell has called the texts “sickening and obviously unacceptable.”

The incendiary messages, which all date from this past June, are a regular cavalcade of bigotry. And a source told the Philadelphia Inquirer Monday that “What has been made public represents a fraction of the messages between the men.” In one exchange, the two riff on how “All should have whatever first names they want… then last name is [n-word]!” Over the course of their messages, they also speculate in details on other people’s sex lives, discuss a “Jew red haired ESL” teacher, “that ape,” “cotton pickers” and a “skinny bitch,” among others. Intriguingly, there’s also a reference to a “MAJOR sneak” who “made at least 1500 – 2000 on kickback.” But to be honest, my favorite is the damming understatement that “This fucking phone! No idea how to work!”

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A district IT worker allegedly discovered the messages last month while transferring data to a new device. Superintendent Como announced his retirement shortly after on the district’s Web site – a letter that now appears to have been quietly scrubbed. Director Jim Donato resigned a few days later. On the District’s site now, there’s a new letter from Acting Superintendent Angelo Romaniello, Jr., acknowledging “inappropriate and racial comments… made by people we trusted.” The Times-Herald reports that “the departures were the direct result of discoveries found on Donato’s cell phone.” And because of questions regarding the extent to which the District was aware of the texts and whether appropriate protocols were followed in Como and Donato’s departures, the District Attorney’s office is now conducting a criminal investigation.

According to records obtained by reporters Michael N. Price and Kristina Scala, Como’s 2010 salary was $192,897 – not a bad income for someone with a barely disguised loathing for the students and faculty he works with. But a comfortable salary can’t buy basic human decency. And for that matter, it definitely can’t provide a working understanding that if you’re going to be a hateful jackass, you should really consider whether you want a text record of that hateful jackassery – or least whether you want to be mouthing off on the equipment your employer issued you.

There is so much that’s contemptible about the exchanges between Como and Donato – the simmering, near constant anger they display, the grotesque, dehumanizing way they view pretty much anybody who isn’t a white man (to their credit, though, I didn’t notice any gay slurs in the lot) and the jaw-dropping amount of arrogance and privilege it takes to speak that hatefully, that freely. But what stinks most is the betrayal it represents, the lie that their jobs were. The disgust they had for their own kids. “They were friendly to our faces,” Zhaqweyza Armstrong, a 16 year-old Coatesville High junior, told the Inquirer Monday, “and then they talked about us behind our backs.”

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream." Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.

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