The images from social media provided to the Weekly are disturbing: A white teen boy holding a Confederate flag along with a replica of a gun with an orange tip in one photo, and brandishing a mock firearm in another. In a video the teen uses the N-word, in a classroom at Pacific Grove High School.
The video was taken and posted by another student in 2019, when the teen boy was 15. The photos are selfies taken and posted about one year ago. They were taken down soon after, but were up long enough for other PGHS students to duplicate and report to school officials.
The teen was identified online as PGHS senior and Associated Student Body President Anthony Biondi, in a change.org petition launched on Saturday, Aug. 7, by another student, two days after the school year began. Change.org removed Biondi's name from the petition on Aug. 9. (The Weekly is naming him because he successfully ran for an elected position at PGHS and that position is being called into question.)
In the petition, junior Alexandra Ulwelling calls on school officials to remove Biondi from the ASB leadership position he was elected to in May. As of Aug. 11, there are over 350 signatures. Ulwelling and her mother, Claudia Ulwelling, say they've received numerous calls and text messages of support since the petition was posted four days ago. "There are a lot of people angry about this," says Claudia.
PGHS Principal Lito Garcia says the decision of whether to remove Biondi will be up to the Associated Student Body government. The bylaws don't specify the way a student officer is recalled, but states that they can be removed immediately for "actions unbecoming an ASB officer." The bylaws also state an officer may be removed after three infractions. The first infraction results in a warning by the school's Activity's Director, second warrants a meeting with the director and principal or vice principal, the third infraction will result in removal.
Garcia would not comment on what disciplinary action the school took with Biondi, citing student confidentiality. The administration learned of the photos after they were posted in 2020; the video came to light in late May, after Biondi was elected.
"When this was brought to my attention late last school year we responded appropriately," Garcia says. "We worked with the student and family to address the matter."
The Weekly obtained an email that Garcia sent to PGHS parents on May 28 outlining the administration's response to the video and photos: administrators met with Biondi's parents and addressed their child's needs; "collaboration with the Pacific Grove Police Department" (it's not known if there were any charges filed); initiated "appropriate services" for the student; and followed discipline procedures as outlined by the Pacific Grove Unified School District Board policies.
Biondi's parents, Dan and Johanna Biondi, say they've been working with professionals, including family counseling, since the incident with the photos last year. On their own they required their son to perform community service hours.
"First of all, we as a family are deeply sad about this," Dan Biondi says. They apologize for the content, and say their son "takes full responsibility for what happened." They also feel their son made mistakes and has learned from them. "From Anthony's perspective, they were mistakes. There was not intent," says Dan. "He was, and is, a child."
The parents say their son has been working at becoming a better, more mature person, and part of that includes participating in the Leadership Class at PGHS and running for office to serve on the ASB.
That the school is allowing Biondi to participate in a position of leadership is what motivated Ulwelling to launch the petition. It also appeared to her and others that PGHS officials were taking little action to discipline Biondi.
"A lot of people, including myself, and particularly people of color and people with disabilities aren't going to feel comfortable having him in a leadership position," Ulwelling says. In addition to serving as president, Biondi is considered a top varsity player on the PGHS football team and perceived as popular, further making him a person of influence with other students, she says.
According to the ASB bylaws, part of the president's responsibility to to create a welcoming atmosphere on campus. "We strive to create a welcoming, spirited, and safe environment in which all students feel included, as well as to provide a voice for the students of the school in a supportive and motivating atmosphere," the ASB's mission statement reads. "We aim to set a precedence of Breaker pride that will pave the way for generations to come."
In her petition, Ulwelling points out that the California education code prohibits "hate violence," which includes expression of hostility due to race, gender, religion, disability, nationality and sexual orientation. According to the PGHS Student Handbook, the state code states that students in violation will face suspension and police interaction. It also states "expulsion recommended."
To Ulwelling, Biondi didn't face the consequences listed in the code and puts the responsibility for removing him from office on adult administrators.
While Garcia says a potential recall is up to student leaders, the Weekly asked what administrators and teachers were doing to educate students around issues of hate speech and symbols. Garcia says that there's "ongoing education with the students about these topics."
Ulwelling, 16, is an athlete herself, swimming on a club team, and is active with the group Diversifying Our Narrative PGUSD. As a chapter of the national movement, the goal of the student-led group is to promote justice for underserved and underrepresented groups, including people of color and LGBTQ individuals. Ulwelling says teachers have been including more diversified texts since the group's activities.