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Choreographer, coach deny saying student’s skin ‘too dark’

January 23, 2019

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A former coach and a choreographer for a high school dance team in Kansas are denying allegations that they prevented a black student from performing during an event because her skin was “too dark” and clashed with the costumes.

Former student Camille Sturdivant leveled the accusations in a lawsuit against the Blue Valley School District, saying she faced racial discrimination and was ostracized after complaining about how she was treated before graduating in 2018.

Choreographer Kevin Murakami, who isn’t named in the lawsuit, released a statement Tuesday denying the allegations, saying he treated all dancers with respect.

“I never even referenced the color of her skin. This is made up, and it’s absolute nonsense,” Murakami said, noting that he was gay and half Japanese, and has experienced racism. “I was raised to be open and to appreciate all races, genders, sexual orientations and cultures.”

Murakami’s statement didn’t address allegations that he and the team’s former coach, Carley Fine, exchanged racist text messages about Sturdivant after she was named to the University of Missouri dance team. Fine was fired a day after the high school’s principal became aware of the messages, according to the lawsuit and the school district.

Fine released a statement to WDAF-TV calling the accusations “false and/or misleading.” She said her lawyers told her not to comment further, but said she looked forward to defending herself in court.

Murakami did not immediately return a message from The Associated Pres seeking comment on Wednesday. The phone number to Fine’s dance studio didn’t accept messages Wednesday, and she has no publicly listed phone number.

A message left with a phone number listed for Sturdivant was not returned Wednesday. Her attorney declined to answer questions.

In the lawsuit, Sturdivant said she saw text messages between Fine and Murakami when she was given Fine’s phone to play music for the team. She alleges Fine used an expletive when saying she believed Sturdivant was chosen because she was black. Sturdivant also alleged she was not invited to a team dinner and all members of the dance team except the one other black member wore ribbons during their last performance with their former coach’s initials, CL.

District Superintendent Todd White released a statement over the weekend telling families in the district that a black student at the school “experienced an incident of racial hostility due to the actions of a former coach.”

“We are sorry for this injustice,” White wrote, adding that administrators immediately fired the coach as soon as they became aware of the conduct.

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