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Euclid to play Michigan team after Solon schools back out of football game, citing safety concerns

A football field.
Hunter Bliss Images
A high school football game is back on Friday at Euclid City School District after opponents Solon City School District had previously pulled out due to safety concerns.

Euclid City School District has found a new opponent for its Friday home football game after its scheduled competitor, Solon City School District, backed out, arguing it would not be safe for its team and fans to travel to Euclid.

Euclid will now play its game against a team from River Rouge School District in Michigan.

In a statement Tuesday, Solon said it made the decision not to play Friday at Euclid after Euclid decided to play last week's homecoming game at Brunswick High School. Euclid moved that game after incidents of students involved in "fighting, violence and other violations of the student code of conduct," the district said in a statement.

Negotiations between the schools to put the game back on broke down Thursday morning, said Patrick Higley, director of operations at Euclid schools. Higley provided Solon a detailed safety plan and offered a walkthrough of the campus, which was declined, he said.

But a Solon City School District spokesperson Thursday said that that communication was not clear.

"The decision made to not travel to Euclid for the varsity football game this week was a safety decision due to the absence of clear communication from Euclid that included a robust safety plan surrounding all aspects of the game and fan/student attendance in light of recent violence on and around their school campus," spokesperson Tamara Strom wrote.

Euclid schools Superintendent Christopher Papouras said in a statement Tuesday that the district has a "comprehensive safety plan" for games and has no concerns about anything negative happening at the game between Euclid and Solon. Solon had offered to move the game — which will be Euclid's "Senior Night" — to their facilities, which Euclid declined.

"We want to emphasize that Euclid Schools are committed to hosting events only when we can ensure our local community's and visiting opponents' safety," Papouras wrote. "Therefore, we find no reason to move Friday night’s game."

Pamela Turos, a parent of two students at the school district and co-chair of the Euclid HOPE violence reduction taskforce, said the district had changed its Homecoming activities after several incidents of students fighting after school last week. She said no guns were involved, as some have suggested online, and no incidents of violence have happened at recent football games to her knowledge. Turos is also a Euclid Board of Education member but emphasized that she was speaking from her role on the antiviolence task force rather than in her capacity as a board member.

Higley, with Euclid, said the district was put in a tough position last week because it needed to conduct a full investigation into the fights that occurred, some of which happened off campus and involved students from other districts. Without clear immediate knowledge of which students would need to be disciplined, Euclid elected to move the Homecoming game to ensure students' safety, he said.

But parents and community members in Euclid said they think Solon's decision to pull out of the game is informed by perceptions of race and violence.

Euclid is a majority-Black school district in the inner-ring suburbs of Cleveland, and Solon is a majority-white suburban school in Cuyahoga County.

Turos said she wished Euclid would "rise above" any fears, which she argued, in part, have to do with Euclid being a majority-Black community.

"Race has to do with everything around how people perceive our community," she said. "I don't believe that they (Solon) are consciously saying they don't want to come and play with Black kids, but the level of fear that they have about our children is directly proportionate to the number of Black kids in our schools."

Susanne Knauer, a mother of a Euclid schools student, said her daughter gets a great education and said the district works hard to ensure safety. She had commented on Euclid's initial Facebook post about Solon pulling out, defending the school district.

"When I see comments coming from people who don't even live in the neighborhood, and they're calling Euclid the ghetto or... making any kind of derogatory remark about my city, I'm, of course, going to defend my city," Knauer said.

Rashal Jones, a teacher whose son is on the junior varsity football team, said she and her three children do feel safe living in Euclid, and added that student misbehavior isn't any worse at Euclid than anywhere else. She formerly worked in East Cleveland schools.

She feels safe when her children go out and play basketball in the neighborhood, she said.

"They go with their friend and have a pickup game at the courts, and they have curfews," she said.

She noted that Euclid's demographics have shifted dramatically in recent years as it's become majority-Black and the community has dealt with challenging economic headwinds, which has caused some negative and racist misconceptions about it to flourish.

Turos noted schools across the region and country — not just Euclid — are dealing with more incidents of student misbehavior since the pandemic. Euclid does take student accountability and safety seriously, with cameras and an updated metal-detector system implemented recently, Higley said. Turos also pointed to grassroots community organizations like the Euclid HOPE Task Force she is a part of, for its efforts to bring attention to and address root causes of violence locally.

Solon schools deny the decision not to play at Euclid is about anything other than student safety.

"This is not about race or poverty," a school spokesperson wrote in an email Thursday. "Our Solon Schools community is one of the most diverse in Northeast Ohio. We have played at Euclid every single year in every single sport, including numerous post-season contests, for nearly a decade. This is about student safety and we were not confident in the plans that Euclid had in place given their actions last week in canceling their Homecoming Parade and moving their game out of Euclid."

Solon City School District in its statement Tuesday argued it tried its best to compromise on the Friday game, which largely revolved around hosting the game instead at Solon, where Euclid would have been recognized as the "home team in all aspects of the game."

"Not playing on Friday night is a disappointment for our school community too," spokesperson Strom said Thursday. "We tried at multiple turns to foster compromise in the spirit of fair play and safety. Solon athletic, school and district officials initiated several conversations to discuss alternatives that would enable the Solon-Euclid varsity game to be played on Friday night. Each of these overtures was dismissed out of hand. Euclid officials were adamant that the game be played in Euclid on Friday night. Without any consideration for alternative solutions and the lack of communication on a comprehensive safety plan, this left us no choice.

Meanwhile, Thursday's freshman football game between the Euclid Panthers and Solon Comets continues as scheduled in Solon.

Solon schools will not play another team on Friday, Strom said.

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.