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Students from a tiny high school in rural Pennsylvania wore “White Lives Matter” shirts to their last day of classes, according to a Snapchat shared with VICE News, as well as interviews with community members. And the school allegedly hasn’t addressed the students’ behavior in any meaningful way.
“They were sent home from school. It was the LAST DAY. There were NO other repercussions. They even went to prom the very next night,” one source told VICE News in an email. “Some of them are seniors going off to represent OUR school and town.”
In the photo, five Montgomery Area High School students are lined up in front of a background of trucks while wearing white T-shirts with “White Lives Matter” scrawled across the front in black lettering that appears to be handwritten. One, who’s rocking a mullet, is flipping off the camera.
“One of the most disrespectful things I’ve ever seen happen in Montgomery,” reads the caption of the Snapchat, which was posted by a student. “Only reason you did this was to piss people off and look like a complete racist, not funny at all.”
No one responded after repeated attempts to contact the school’s principal, the district’s superintendent, and members of the local school board. VICE News was also unable to reach any of the students in the photo.
Four sources who spoke to VICE News about the Snapchat asked to remain anonymous out of fears for their safety. Their small Pennsylvania town of less than 2,000 people, they said, has a reputation for tolerating bigotry—and punishing those who speak out against it. In fact, some said they’ve already received threats.
“Each graduating class has roughly 45-60 kids per class,” the source told VICE News. “So in a town like this, you don’t really go against the grain or you are bullied and ostracized.”
Know anything about what happened at Montgomery Area High School or want to tell us about an incident at your school? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The town of Montgomery, Pennsylvania, sits about 80 miles north of Harrisburg and its population is 97 percent white. Sources described the area as “very right-wing” and “conservative-Christian oriented.” The prevailing ideology, however, sometimes strays into offensive or downright racist territory.
The district’s mascot, for example, is the “Red Raider,” an image of a stereotypical Native American with face paint and feathers in their hair. And just last year, a neo-Nazi group held a hate march in a park just 15 minutes away.
“I recall when I was a kid in the early ’90s there were still white power rallies on rare occasions in nearby small towns,” said Barry Hill Jr., a Montgomery High alumnus who graduated in 2003.
The recent White Lives Matter incident at the school exploded in the town after the Snapchat was posted on Facebook and Reddit, according to sources. One community member even wrote a letter to the editor of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette, a local newspaper.
“I am ashamed for the town which prides itself in having such a great school,” Sherry Lee Havonbrook wrote in the letter. “I’m horrified for the targeted students, staff, and those that attend that do not align with such bigotry. I hope things get better, but I’m disgusted.”
The letter spurred several comments on the paper’s website, most centered around racist “All Lives Matter” rhetoric.
“But BLM shirts are OK?? What a bigoted character you are,” one person wrote in a comment.
This isn’t the first time Montgomery High has been host to racist controversy, though. The school used to put on a “Slave Day,” when students would be auctioned off to each other and faculty and made to do whatever their “purchaser” required of them, Hill and another source told VICE News.
“They would be made to carry around others’ books or do others’ homework,” Hill said. “Teachers would make them clap erasers, scrub toilets, etc. Sometimes in silly or humiliating outfits. The money went to senior class activities.”
“This was not even 10 years ago,” the source told VICE News.
The day’s name has since been changed to the “Senior Auction.”
Hill also said that the school has a history of anti-LGBTQ+ policies and used to require students attending prom to have dates of the opposite gender identity. He also said that coming out at the school not only meant harassment but also proved to be extremely dangerous.
“I am only aware of a single student who was openly gay throughout my entire time at school,” Hill said. “The family moved into the district and, I did not witness it, but I was told the girl had been beaten up pretty badly after inquiring about a relationship with another female student and did not return to school after that. The family moved away a couple weeks later.”
So for many in the town of Montgomery, students sporting the White Lives Matter slogan is just another example of a lack of awareness and inclusivity. And everyone who spoke to VICE News expressed a desire for their community to change and start addressing acts of racism.
“These boys have not apologized or been reprimanded. Montgomery perpetuates racism and, by not holding them accountable, allows it,” one source said.