Statement Regarding Laguna Hills HS Incident


The racist comments made in reference to an IUSD student athlete, by a Laguna Hills High School (LLHS) student, during a recent basketball game at LHHS are unacceptable and appalling. The Portola High School and IUSD community stand in full support of our student and his family.  Both Superintendent Walker and Portola High School Principal Pehrson have been in contact with the family to express our District's support, concern and commitment to continue to engage with Saddleback Valley Unified School District staff to address this egregious and unacceptable conduct.     

Superintendents for both school districts, in addition to Portola High School and LHHS principals and athletic directors have been in contact.  Saddleback Unified and LHHS administrators have informed us that they investigated this matter and are engaging in corrective measures with appropriate consequences.

We are proud of our student and his family for the grace with which they have handled this situation.  We also appreciate Portola High students and staff, who have been engaging in meaningful conversations throughout this week and have had an opportunity to use this as a learning experience.  For any IUSD students who may have been impacted by this incident, please do not hesitate to reach out to your teachers, school counselors or other trusted staff for support.  

IUSD is commitment to creating an unbiased and inclusive society through education.  To learn more, please see information about our ongoing Continuous Improvement Efforts and our Black Lives Matter Resolution passed by the IUSD Board of Education.  

Below is a statement (Jan. 26) and an update (Jan. 28) issued by Portola High School Principal John Pehrson.  Additionally, Principal Pehrson’s Statement of Unity, prior to the Portola High basketball game on Jan. 26, in which he called for our community to stand together against hate, is available to watch on IUSD.TV as well.    

January 28, 2022

Dear Portola Community,

Heartfelt gratitude goes out to the community for your support of the families affected by the incidents of last week.  Please see the previous message from January 26 for details if you missed it the first time.  At Portola High School we do not stand for any hate related behaviors and are committed to continually building a culture of inclusivity, compassion, and acceptance.  On the other side of that, we are also committed to calling out behavior that is hateful, racist, anti-black, as well as anything specifically directed toward People of Color and other marginalized groups.  The events of last week will not be brushed aside and in fact, will only intensify our efforts to move toward positive change. 

A few people have asked what PHS is doing to protect our kids to ensure this doesn’t happen again.  We sincerely hope it will never happen again, but our job as educators and a community is to prepare our children to be able to respond swiftly and appropriately if it does.  As a parent, you may be unaware of the things we are already doing to develop engaged citizens who demonstrate strong character, empathy, and inclusivity, so I wanted to highlight a few that have been ongoing and then share a couple upcoming as well. 

IUSD is committed to creating an unbiased and inclusive society through education.  As such, our PHS teachers write annual goals in support of social justice reform.  We meet monthly in cross curricular groups to specifically discuss Social Justice standards and issues and specifically share how these are applied in the classroom.  As part of that work, we have spent the past two summers participating in school wide reads around this topic.  For athletics, we have seasonal coach, student, and parent meetings to discuss sportsmanship and character and the necessity to demonstrate that on and off the field.  Schoolwide we regularly recognize students who demonstrate the school values of Perseverance, Respect, Integrity, Drive, and Empathy.  Additionally, our school’s equity team partners with Equal Opportunity Schools to explore new avenues of supporting our marginalized populations in advanced classes. 

This week, the response from our student body and staff has been remarkable.  Key leaders in our staff have been working on bystander training and a lesson to go over with all of our teachers at our monthly cross curricular meeting and then with all of our kids during Wednesday’s advisement class.  We have already been having discussions with our kids in several classrooms across campus, but this particular lesson will involve every teacher and every student.  This type of lesson/training is indicative of the passion and commitment our staff has to this effort toward positive change.  In addition, key student leaders are developing ways to provide more student voice in this process as well as looking for opportunities to reach out to other schools to stand together, learn from one another, and again, contribute to positive change.  There is solidarity in this effort.

I am proud of the efforts thus far, but I am the first to say there is much more work to be done.  We need to provide time and space for people to share their stories and work together to support those who have been hurt and build up those who have been torn down.  We can only do this together.  I don’t know what this will look like in the days and weeks ahead, but we are committed to this journey and look forward to your partnership in the process.   


John Pehrson, Principal

January 26, 2022

Dear Portola Community,

Most of you have likely heard that an incident occurred at a Varsity Basketball game last Friday night at Laguna Hills HS.  Among many things that happened one of their students was caught on a recording yelling several racial remarks toward one of our players at several points throughout the game.  This was a despicable and shameful act of hate and ignorance. 

Portola HS stands in full support of our students and families affected by this.  The Leadership from the Saddleback Valley School District has publicly addressed the issue and is taking steps toward restoration and is also expressing support for the family and stating that no amount of apology will make up for what happened.

As the principal of Portola High School, I want to use this as an opportunity and call to action for our community.  Unfortunately, in spite of all the movements and efforts around Social Justice reform, these types of acts of hatred and ignorance are still happening everywhere, not just at that school.  When these behaviors go unchecked and people do not stand up against them, they continue.  I am asking our Bulldog community and families to stand in support of our community members who experience these types of interactions on a regular basis.  If we stand together maybe we can slowly move toward a better, more inclusive, and loving community. 

John Pehrson, Principal