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High School Band Member Accuses Cheerleader of Leading Racial Taunts

September 21, 1988

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) _ A black high school student says she was told to ″go back to the ghetto″ during a football game, prompting school officials Wednesday to promise to work toward preventing future racial clashes.

Shana Cannell, a 14-year-old freshman, said a cheerleader at Pekin led other students in racially harassing blacks at the Sept. 2 game between the Peoria Lions and the Pekin Dragons.

″While I was playing in the (Peoria) band, Pekin High School students taunted my friends and me with racial slurs such as ... ’go back to the ghetto,‴ the teen-ager wrote in a letter to the Journal Star of Peoria.

She added that ″one of the more vocal students was a Pekin cheerleader who was standing in front of her coach″ and referred to her by a common racial epithet.

Jack Wilt, Pekin School District superintendent, said he has found no witnesses but has no reason to doubt the girl’s story. Wilt said he plans on offering her a written apology.

″I can’t pinpoint who made the remarks but I don’t doubt they were made,″ Wilt said Wednesday.

Ms. Cannell’s father, Julian Cannell, the Peoria School District attorney, said an apology ″is not the answer.″

″My speculation is the teachers and parents in Pekin don’t care,″ he said. ″They must educate their children that overt racism will not be tolerated in our society.″

Chic Renner, president of the Pekin school board, said Wednesday that the remarks of a few students do not reflect the attitudes of everyone in Pekin.

Wilt said there is a history of racial problems at athletic events involving Pekin and Peoria High, which has 1,200 students and a 39 percent minority enrollment.

He noted that less than 1 percent of Pekin High’s 2,500-member student body is black and only one or two black families live in Pekin.

Renner is concerned the incident is rekindling the longstanding perception of Pekin as a racist community.

″I don’t know how long we have to dwell on it,″ he said. ″We recognize the problem and are trying to deal with it and cure it.″

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