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A fight broke out last week at Leonardtown High School after a “racially baiting interaction” between students, according to a letter sent home to parents Friday.

In the letter, Principal Maureen Montgomery said that an incident last Wednesday, Feb. 22, had been investigated and “involved parties had received appropriate consequences.” However, according to the letter, rumors carried through social media drew in other students and some of those students exchanged heated words that escalated into a fight Thursday at school.

“We will not tolerate any type of racism in our schools and will deal with it aggressively,” Superintendent Michael Martirano said Tuesday.

Montgomery said Tuesday that a student at Leonardtown High who attends the fire and rescue program at the Dr. James A. Forrest Career and Technology Center had a rope last Wednesday that he was using to learn to tie knots, such as a daisy knot. A group of about five students were holding and looking at the rope in a hall. One student “manipulated” the knot and another held it up, looking across the hall at a group of African-American students, she said.

One black student took the rope, which was perceived as a noose, and threw it into a hall, Martirano said.

That night rumors and half-truths began circulating between students about the incident through social media, the superintendent said.

“Some fights emerged the next day in school as a result of the rumors going around,” he said.

Seven students in all were suspended, Montgomery said. One student who manipulated the knot and one who held it up faced the maximum consequences, she said.

“There is no pervasive racism at Leonardtown High School,” the principal said. “It was a few students who made really bad decisions.”

Students she spoke with are offended by any symbol that would be racially antagonistic, she said.

On Friday teachers and other staff patrolled the halls at the school to hustle students to class and monitor hot spots in the building. Additional school resource officers from the sheriff’s office were also at the school.

Montgomery in the letter urged parents to discuss the impact of unchecked rumors and bullying through social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

“Even if your child is not posting inappropriate comments, I assure you they are exposed to inappropriate content and inflammatory rhetoric,” Montgomery wrote.

“They need to do more” to address the issue, Janice Walthour, a member of the St. Mary’s County chapter of the NAACP, said this week. Walthour said that she has talked to several parents who are concerned about the insensitivity, hate and animosity surrounding the issue.

Some parents said they were upset that the school did not notify them immediately after the racially charged incident when it first happened on Wednesday. The school sent the letter home Friday.

Leonardtown High School plans to present a play titled “Don’t U Love Me” that chronicles the impact social bullying has on students, according to the letter. The play will be shown March 15 during school and in the evening at 7 p.m.

jyeatman@somdnews.com