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Student: Rock Island soccer team told they can’t board bus, to ‘go back to your country’

Published: Sep. 17, 2021 at 3:40 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 17, 2021 at 10:19 PM CDT
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ROCK ISLAND, Ill. (KWQC) - A student on the Rock Island High School boys’ soccer team said he and other players experienced a racist encounter with a charter bus company Thursday as they were about to leave for an away game.

A sophomore on the soccer team, Gabriel Albarran, said he was wearing a Mexican flag around his shoulders for Mexican Independence Day. As the team was about to board the bus, Albarran said the bus driver told him, “that flag is not allowed here. This is America. You shouldn’t have that flag,” and told the teenager to go back to his country.

The bus driver would not allow the students to board the bus who were carrying a Mexican flag. The rest of the team refused to board again and had to reschedule the game since a new transportation plan could not be reached in time, Albarran said.

Dr. Reginald Lawrence, superintendent of the Rock Island-Milan School District, said, “Our students should not have to experience this sort of bias and racism.”

“What took place was extremely disappointing and unacceptable, however, our RIHS Soccer Team and the Head Coach conducted themselves with respect and dignity,” he said.

Albarran says he knew he had to maintain his composure and stay calm, especially since he knew his teammates were supporting him. Dr. Lawrence wants them to know, the school and community is supporting them as well. “This is something that’s life-changing for those that had to witness this... Unfortunately in the times we live in, this may happen again and you’ll see it in another form. You’re surrounded by people who support you, your family, and friends in the community. You’ll move forward in times like this. This is real- it’s not a movie it’s not something you see on TV. It’s real all across the world and it’s something we’ll continue to work through.”

School officials said they have worked with Tri-State Travel Agency for many years and are re-evaluating their contract.

TV6 reached out to the charter company, who said they’re conducting an internal investigation and are handling the situation with the bus driver.

Albarran said he was shocked at the incident, but said he will continue to celebrate his heritage and carry his Mexican flag with pride.

“We hope that more discussion develops from this situation. because these conversations are more important than ever,” Lawrence said. “It is our hope that the Rock Island-Milan School District can lead with shared values of justice, opportunity, community and equity. Racism is counterproductive to our values, and we need to do everything in our power to end it.”

Dr. Lawrence recommends parents speak to their kids about this incident and “listen to your children. Find out how it impacted them, how they’re thinking. how they feel about it. then both of you can learn together with conversations.” He goes on to say school counselors and mentoring services are available if needed.

Read the full statement from the school district:

Dear Rock Island-Milan School District Community,

On September 16, 2021, our Rock Island High School Boys Soccer team encountered an unfortunate situation with a charter bus company the school district contracted with for transportation to an out of town soccer game. Some of the soccer team members were confronted by the charter bus driver who refused to let the players board the bus because the players were carrying a Mexican flag in celebration of Mexican Independence Day. The team members got off the bus and refused to board again. Unfortunately, the issue was not able to be resolved in time for the Soccer team to travel to the game, and the game had to be rescheduled. With all that transpired, our RIHS Soccer Team and the Head Coach conducted themselves with respect and dignity. Our students should not have to experience this sort of bias and racism. What took place was extremely disappointing and unacceptable, however, our RIHS Soccer Team and the Head Coach conducted themselves with respect and dignity. The Rock Island-Milan School District is a school district of many nations, and we are here to support our students. All of the work (educational, social/emotional and extra-curricular) that the Rock Island-Milan School District does revolves around Cultural Intelligence (CQ), which allows us to gain a better understanding of cultures and helps us to work in a positive and compassionate way with people from various cultures. We hope that more discussion develops from this situation, because these conversations are more important than ever. It is our hope that the Rock Island-Milan School District can lead with shared values of justice, opportunity, community and equity. Racism is counterproductive to our values, and we need to do everything in our power to end it.

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