Graffiti with racial slurs discovered at high school

Published April 28, 2007

PALM HARBOR - Nine portables at Palm Harbor University High School were spray-painted with racial slurs overnight Thursday, officials said.

The school's head plant operator discovered the vandalism about 6 a.m. Friday, school district spokeswoman Andrea Zahn said.

Students with classes in the portables were sent to the auditorium for first and second periods Friday while school employees painted over the slurs.

"Everything was back to normal by third period, " Zahn said.

Students said teachers and administrators lined up side by side to block students' view of the graffiti.

"Our principal didn't want anyone to be offended by it, so he didn't let anyone see it, " said sophomore Somah Sameni, 16.

Rumors about the vandalism swept the campus Friday.

"Tonight is prom, so we thought it might have been a senior prank, " Sameni said.

Sameni and her friend Amber Taylor, 15, said they then wondered if the vandalism was done by students from a rival school.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office is investigating but has not identified any suspects.

"We're reviewing surveillance video from the school campus, " sheriff's Sgt. Jim Bordner said.

All Pinellas County middle and high schools are equipped with surveillance cameras, Zahn said.

Bordner declined to say which minority group or groups were targeted, citing an open criminal investigation. The graffiti contained "racially insensitive and offensive" slurs, Zahn said.

Several students said they heard about the vandalism but did not see it. Senior David Cole, 18, said he heard from a friend that several minority groups were mentioned. Sameni and Taylor said they heard the vandalism contained references to blacks, Asians and others.

Based on numbers reported to the state Department of Education last year, about 15 percent of Palm Harbor's students are members of minorities. Asked if they ever felt racial tensions at the school, Sameni and Taylor both said they hadn't.

"Not at all, " Sameni said.

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To help

Anyone with information about the vandalism at Palm Harbor University High School can call the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office at (727) 582-6200.