The Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools District announced Tuesday the findings of an external investigation aimed at determining who authored a racist note and a racist message discovered at Prior Lake High School in late February.
Superintendent Michael Thomas said the district intends to impose disciplinary action on the two students believed to have each written one of the messages.
The findings come after the district retained a handwriting expert from a forensics firm to analyze the racist messages by comparing the messages with students' handwriting.
A Minneapolis-based law firm conducted interviews and led the external investigation before concluding that it was "more probable than not" that the students identified in the investigation were responsible.
"PLSAS will not tolerate behavior that inflicts racial harm and prevents our students from learning in a safe environment," Thomas wrote in an email to families Tuesday evening. "That’s why our district has taken active steps to promote conversations about the culture of our school by working closely with city, township and community partners, along with students and staff, to implement their ideas to drive change in our school."
The first incident tied to the investigation happened on Feb. 22 when a student on the Prior Lake High School girls junior varsity basketball team discovered a racist note, reading "get off our team monkey", in her gym bag.
Achai Deng identified herself as the target of the incident in a statement on social media, calling it "the most heartbreaking moment" of her life.
"I'm not hurting on the fact that I got called a monkey, but I'm hurting because it was people that I loved and respected the most," she wrote.
The varsity team responded by forfeiting their final game of the season and the first round of the playoffs.
Demondi Johnson, the team's head coach at the time, put out a statement apologizing to Deng "for the racist actions and inexcusable behavior toward her."
Johnson resigned that week, saying his goal was to "change the culture" of Prior Lake and noting he "will always stand up for those who look like me."
The second incident tied to the now-concluded investigation happened six days later, when students discovered a message urging Black students to take their own lives written on the girls' bathroom mirror.
High-profile racist incidents plagued Prior Lake High School throughout the past school year, beginning in November when a social media video went viral showing two students repeatedly using the N-word and urging a Black student to take her own life.
The incident drew widespread outrage and the attention of nationally-known civil rights activists, prompting a protest outside the school.
In early December, district officials announced an investigation into another racist social media video involving a student and promised "swift and appropriate" action. Details of the video weren't divulged.
On Tuesday, the district released a redacted investigation report from Rupp, Anderson, Squires, Waldspurger & Mace, P.A. – the external law firm which investigated the two February incidents.
Ultimately, according to the report, only one student witness agreed to be interviewed for the investigation and three others "either did not respond to multiple requests for interviews or refused to participate in the investigation."
The forensics expert analyzed the handwriting of four students and noted "there are 'multiple similarities without significant differences' between (redacted) handwriting and the writing in the basketball note," the report states.
The expert told the investigator she was "pretty confident" in her conclusion of who wrote the note, but she could not definitely rule out the three other students on the basketball team, according to the report.
Much of the report's reasoning for how the investigation ultimately led investigators towards one student in particular is redacted.
The investigation into the racist message on the bathroom mirror was guided by surveillance footage showing the students who entered and exited the bathroom the morning of Feb. 28.
One student agreed to be interviewed and appeared for the meeting by herself. She was "fully willing to cooperate" with the district and the investigator, the report states, and determined to be a credible witness.
"The most plausible explanation for the writing on the mirror is that (redacted) wrote it," the report reads.
"We remain committed to providing a more inclusive and equitable learning experience for each and every student and staff member," Thomas concluded in his email to families. "As we near the start of a new school year, we look forward to continued collaboration to help ensure a safe environment for all learners."