St. Anthony's High School has expelled four students in separate incidents that the principal called racially offensive -- display of a Confederate battle flag at a school sports event, and posting of a photograph in blackface along with incendiary language on social media.
Brother Gary Cregan, principal of the South Huntington school, said Wednesday he expelled two seniors, both boys, who on April 9 walked into a European handball event in the gymnasium with the flag, which teachers immediately confiscated. He earlier had suspended the two for 10 days.
He also expelled two girls, both sophomores, after they posted on social media a photograph of one of them in blackface and the racially inflammatory language.
School officials said they were unaware if anything specific prompted the students to bring the flag to the school. They did not know of students being expelled for such reasons in the past.
St. Anthony's, founded in 1933 by the Franciscan brothers, has about 2,450 students in grades 9-12. Cregan said about 1,800 of its students are white, 138 black, 215 of Asian ethnicity, about 200 of Hispanic ethnicity, six American Indian and about four of Pacific Island ethnicity. Another 46 are of mixed race, he said.
The principal, who sent a letter to parents Friday after the flag incident, said Wednesday that he decided stronger action was needed against the seniors than the boys' suspension. He had hoped to encourage them to learn a lesson from the incident, he said, but decided that course was untenable -- partly because of remaining tensions in the school.
The two girls posted the photograph on social media on Friday night, Cregan said.
In the letter to parents, the principal instructed them to carefully monitor their children's online communications and "terminate and remove all inflammatory and destructive posts which are sadly part of teenage online activity in our current technological environment."
On Wednesday, Cregan deplored both incidents.
"I cannot comprehend that in this day and age people would think this type of racial insensitivity is acceptable," he said.
"I am trying to clearly indicate St. Anthony's High School's disgust with racial intolerance, and the message I am trying to really express to everyone is that we're in America in 2014 and that this is not the way we should be living as American citizens and not the way we should be living as people in America," he said.
A photograph taken inside a school hallway on April 9 shows a group of youths around the flag. School officials confirmed that the picture was taken inside St. Anthony's.
No action is expected against others who are in the photo with the two seniors, officials said.
Cregan said he decided to expel the boys in part because they had brought disrepute upon the school, in violation of its handbook.
"I really feel that these students have really tarnished the school's reputation," Cregan said.
The principal said he had hoped for a different resolution.
"I had hoped, perhaps naively, that we would be able at a given point to reasonably sit down, but the emotions are still very high," he said. "You can feel the mood in the building. The mood is not a pleasant mood. It's a tense mood.
"For school safety at this point, I don't want to be bringing anybody in the building, and I do believe that the school's reputation has been damaged from this," Cregan said.
The school was open Monday and Tuesday and is closed the rest of the week in observance of Holy Week.
Cregan, in his letter Friday to parents, wrote, "The use of any symbol, either historic or current, which carries a meaning designed to revive past injustices or to inflame discrimination or racial intolerance, is completely unacceptable and profoundly offensive.
"As a Catholic and Franciscan school, Saint Anthony's will always demand acceptance and respect for all races, religions and cultures," he wrote.