Racial tensions at elite San Francisco prep school

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The ABC7 I-Team is helping to bring some positive change to an elite prep school in San Francisco that has been rocked by racial tensions. One basketball coach has quit the school and students of color are on edge.

Students and staff tell us the school has been slow to deal with conflicts involving race, hoping they would just go away. But a social media post described as blackface has brought this controversy to a boil.

RELATED: Milpitas teacher shows up to class in blackface for Halloween

Families spend $49,500 a year to send their teens to Drew School in Pacific Heights, a college prep that claims it "fosters an environment in which equity and respect for others are core."

A promotional video says, "At Drew, you'll find your second home."

But, Drew Junior Laurel Bandy tells I-Team Reporter Dan Noyes, she has endured several racist incidents during her years there.

"Like saying the N word in the hall and on the bus. There's this incident that happened, they're playing this game where like, you start off really quiet saying the N word and get louder and whoever bails out is like you lose."

In addition to playing on the varsity basketball team, Laurel is president of Drew's Black Student Union or "BSU" -- 10 students of color out of about 300 enrolled at the school. The black students were stunned by two Snapchat posts that have been distributed: a girl from the school in what they describe as blackface with the n-word and her name. The second one says, "To all the people who are mad from dat post, my (n-word), I simply do not care."

"It was just really frustrating," said Laurel Bandy. "I was really angry because it made a lot of the kids in my BSU feel really unsafe and like, not comfortable being around those students anymore."

Laurel Bandy tells us her anger turned to fear. After she complained to the school administration, she posted this Tik-Tok video in which she wrote, "When everything's been pretty chill and you think life is chill, racist kids at school." A white student reposted the video adding the words, "Snitches gonna get stitches f-r", meaning "for real".

Laurel's father, Riley Bandy, tells us, "Other people in the hallway are telling her, 'Oh, you're a snitch.'"

Riley Bandy is a San Francisco police officer.

Riley Bandy: "I ended up alerting police to this."

Dan Noyes: "You filed a report?"

Riley Bandy: "I did, yeah, because I'm afraid for my daughter's safety at this point."

The SFPD confirmed they received Bandy's complaint and that an "officer contacted school administrators who stated that they were aware of the incidents and had taken steps to address the situation."

TAKE ACTION: Get help with your rights to justice, equality and civil liberties

Drew's Head of School, David Frankenberg, refused to be interviewed on camera, but he emailed me that the social media posts were "totally unacceptable -- according to both our stated values and formal policies -- and our administration took immediate corrective steps, both with the students involved and our school community as a whole."

Two weeks ago, the school held an assembly on the issue of race and asked Laurel to address the student body, but at the last moment, they told her she couldn't speak. Laurel says the assembly was very general and had no impact.

Dan Noyes: "If you could get one message across to your classmates, what would the message be?"

Laurel Bandy: "I don't tolerate racism and any type of disrespect and I'm going to continue to stand up and I would love it if they stood with me, as well."

Rae Contreras was a basketball standout in college, played professionally in Ireland, and coached at Drew School the past three years. She tells the I-Team, "Laurel is the most courageous young woman I've met in a long time."

Rae tells us she just quit her job there because of how she feels they protected the white students in this case, and what she says an administrator told her.

"You have to think about their future. We don't want to just suspend kids, go around expelling students because they have to fill out college applications. They have to disclose why they were suspended."

The I-Team took this information to the historic Third Baptist Church and Pastor Amos Brown, head of the San Francisco Chapter of the NAACP.

"They should humble themselves and admit that they have a problem," said Dr. Brown. "Stop sweeping it under the rug and in a civil, rational, sensible way, call the student body together and say, this will not be tolerated here."

After our interview, we watched as Reverend Brown called Drew School and demanded action.

"This is serious for students to be involved in treating people wrongly because they're black."

And it looks like it's working. Amos Brown now tells us Drew School is exploring how to address these issues, with the help of the NAACP. One final note: we reached the parents of those three students who sent the posts. They all want to remain anonymous, but one father sent me a message apologizing for what he calls "this inappropriate post" and he says his son "continues to be hurt by being tagged as a racist which he is not."

Check out more stories and videos about Building a Better Bay Area.

Copyright © 2019 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.