1 Fort Lauderdale
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A black high-school basketball player expelled from American Heritage School for allegedly cursing at a white coach is fighting what he calls excessive punishment, and he has retained a prominent civil rights attorney with the help of Miami Heat superstar Dwyane Wade and actress Gabrielle Union.
Cyrus Nance, an 18-year-old senior who played on the Plantation school’s varsity basketball team with Wade’s son and nephew, was kicked out of the elite school in November following a profane back-and-forth the student said was initiated by the head coach of the girls’ varsity basketball team.
Nance said he and a few of his teammates — all minorities — had been shooting baskets during a lull in the girls’ Nov. 13 practice when the coach, Greg Farias, yelled at them to leave and “respect your f—ing elders”. Nance responded with his own curse words, prompting the school to remove him from campus in a golf cart and expel him the following day. Farias was not punished, attorneys for the student said.
Wade and Union, his wife, helped Nance and his mother, Angela Cross, retain Tallahassee attorney Benjamin Crump, known widely for his work representing the families of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin and St. Louis man Michael Brown in civil rights cases.
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During a press conference Thursday in Fort Lauderdale, Crump called Nance’s punishment extreme and possibly discriminatory, and he called on American Heritage to reinstate Nance. He said litigation is a logical next step if his demands fall on deaf ears.
“Every fact in this case points to discrimination. Discrimination against a vulnerable single mother who the school might have believed had no resources to fight this injustice, a wrong that could very well have a lasting negative effect on Cyrus,” Crump said in a statement released to reporters. “The school has already stolen four weeks of his education. The time has come for justice for Cyrus, to restore his hope for a bright and successful future.”
An attorney for the school, Eric Schwartzreich, told the Miami Herald that Nance’s actions involved “more than using profanity toward a coach” and that an investigation into the incident and a review of surveillance footage supported the punishment. Schwartzreich denied claims that the school discriminated against Nance, calling the allegations “entirely untrue.”
“American Heritage will not publicly discuss any student’s discipline given its respect for a student’s privacy and confidentiality over such matters,” Schwartzreich said in a statement. “However, the student handbook published to parents and students makes clear that any student who uses profanity at staff members or faculty will be expelled. The school consistently applies this guideline.”
Nance is a close friend of Zaire Wade, the Heat player’s son, and Wade’s nephew Dahveon Morris. The Wades host Nance at their home on weekends, and were troubled by the harshness of the punishment and what they called a lack of transparency from the school. Morris was present during the November incident, Nance said.
School policy states that expulsion is the “most severe” penalty at American Heritage, and that the administration has zero tolerance for the use of “profanity and/or obscenity directed at faculty or staff members in any language.” Other offenses that can get students expelled include issuing a bomb threat, fighting or possessing drugs on campus.
“Give due process to this kid, be transparent, show the video tape,” Crump said Thursday. “If he did something wrong, then let us see it. His teammates say he didn’t do anything at all more egregious than what the basketball coach did to them.”
The school is allegedly currently holding Nance’s transcript and asking that Cross pay several hundred dollars to retrieve it, which Crump called a form of extortion.
Crump was joined by Nance and Cross, and former American Heritage head basketball coach Brent Maffett, who said Nance’s value as a college recruit has fallen with this mark on his record. Expelled after a November transfer deadline, Nance would be inelligible to play at another area school, Maffett said.
“It’s all about character when you’re talking about college and playing at the next level,” he said. “Coaches don’t want to deal with headaches. They want good kids. They want to have good kids coming into their program.”
Wade and Union released a statement Thursday calling Nance a “good kid with a great mother and no history of behavorial issues.” They said he transferred to Heritage during his senior year via a work-study scholarship. He previously attended Dillard High School and Stranahan High School.
“Our family believes in getting to the truth with effective, timely communication,” their statement reads. “Unfortunately, this has not been the case and we refuse to stand by and allow a bright black child with a bright future to be seen as disposable. He is not.”
Schwartzreich, the attorney for American Heritage, said the school is ranked highly for its diverse student body at both its campuses, in Plantation and Boca Raton.
“We treat every student the same, regardless of race, color, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status,” he said. “We will not apologize for upholding our standards and will be fully prepared to defend any claims in court if necessary.”