Former Desert Vista teacher: Photo shines spotlight on racial issues

The photo that has gone viral of six Desert Vista High School students.
(Photo by Julia Thatcher/Cronkite News)

Former principal Anna Battle speaks out about the photo taken on Jan. 22, at Desert Vista High School with a racial slur written across the shirts of six girls. (Photo by Julia Thatcher/Cronkite News)

Former teacher, Cicely Cobb, who filed a lawsuit against the Tempe Union High School District in 2014, speaks about the viral photo taken at Desert Vista. (Photo by Julia Thatcher/Cronkite News)

AWHATUKEE — In an exclusive interview with Cronkite News, Desert Vista High School administrators are speaking about a photo that has gone viral.

A group of girls that were supposed to be spelling out “best you’ve ever seen class of 2016” for their senior panorama picture broke off to spell out a racial slur, using the letters on their shirts.

The school’s principal, Christine Barela, said what happened at the school was an “unfortunate situation that happened, (but) this does not define Desert Vista.”

However, Cecily Cob, who is a former teacher at the high school, disagrees. She filed a lawsuit in 2014 against the Tempe Union High School District claiming racial discrimination, and said this wasn’t the first time Desert Vista has had a problem with racism.

“Seeing that photo let me know that I wasn’t imagining it,” Cobb said. “There were actually severe systemic racial issues on that campus.”

When the photo surfaced on Jan. 22, Cobb said she wasn’t surprised.

“This issue with the Desert Vista six would not be an issue right now if the Tempe Union High School District had taken the time to fully explore the systemic racism that permeates Desert Vista High School,” Cobb said.

The former principal, Anna Battle, who is now a defendant in the lawsuit, was quick to dismiss accusations filed in the lawsuit and any relation to the photo that has now gone viral.

“This has nothing to do, or even close relationship to what was experienced with the non-renewal of Cecily Cobb,” Battle said.

The school district is currently determining the future of the six girls involved in the photo, and a petition asking for their expulsion and the principal’s resignation has reached more than 45,000 signatures.

Despite the controversy, Barela said she and Desert Vista will survive.

“We are a community that love each other and know that we all make mistakes,” Barela said. “We will forgive each other and we’re going to work together to rise above to be better and stronger.”

We reached out to the six girls in hopes of an interview, but we have yet to hear anything back. To date, only one of the six has made a statement of any kind.