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The campus of Highland Community College is closed amid the institution’s response to COVID-19, at the same time the college faces high civil rights scrutiny.

Like almost all of the athletes he coached through the end of January at Highland Community College, Jered Ross was an African-American on a campus where more than eight in 10 students are white, but it rarely concerned him.

That is, until February, when Highland officials suspended Ross, his fellow assistant women’s basketball coach Brad Zinn and Head Coach BJ Smith. The suspensions for Ross and Zinn, who also is black, were never lifted. Though the college eventually restored Smith, the Scotties — undefeated at the time Ross lost his job — would go from a likely contender for the junior collegiate national title to a few frustrating losses and eventual playoff elimination at 21-4.

“This isn’t a normal situation,” Ross said. “If it made sense, man, I’d explain it to you, but I can’t.”

These events are part of a saga that has unfolded since fall 2019, which eventually led to a lawsuit backed by the American Civil Liberties Union to be filed against Highland college on March 20. The lawsuit alleges “systemic” racial discrimination has occurred on the Highland campus for months, mainly targeting black student athletes.

The college has not given an interview on any of these claims. In a previous written statement, it said the actions it took against Ross, Zinn and Smith prompted a false “outcry of racism” among various parties. Asked again in the aftermath of the ACLU lawsuit filing to comment on the situation, College President Deborah Fox and members of the Highland Board of Trustees declined.

One of the four plaintiffs in the lawsuit is Khaliah Hines, who Ross coached throughout her freshman year. Hines declined to comment on the nature of her experiences, though they are laid out in a 29-page brief filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas. One of her co-plaintiffs, former Highland Scotties football wide receiver Donmonic Perks Jr., said on Friday he wants to stop what has been going on at Highland.

“I’m standing up for my rights,” he said. “Because that’s what I was raised up on: Standing up for my rights and never letting anyone do you wrong. When you’re right, you’re right.”

Amid these events, Ross has become convinced the suspensions are questionable. At the time of his suspension, Ross said, officials told him he faced a dead-to-rights case against him for academic dishonesty, namely that he allegedly gave unfair assistance to the women playing on his team so that they would do well enough in school to remain eligible to compete on the court. Ross said administrators told him he’d be subject to an inquiry by the National Junior College Athletics Association.

Only the NJCAA never called, nobody ever followed up on the accusations and in an email exchange Ross shared with News-Press NOW, months after the suspension, Fox admitted, “We are not aware that any sanctions have been imposed on you by the NJCAA.” The contracts for each of the coaches had been set to run through June. In the same message, Fox went on to say that an internal Highland investigation against Ross is ongoing. Ross said he followed up with her to ask what exactly he is accused of doing wrong, and he received no further response.

Though he has his suspicions, Ross said he can’t know for sure if race is a factor in the way he has been treated, and he doesn’t know what the motive behind the actions might be, though he has paid close attention to the ACLU case, observing, “It’s just sad that it’s 2020 and we’re still dealing with things like this.”

“I don’t know what school self-inflicts violations on a successful program,” he said. “I’ve never seen that ... I’ve never seen a school call up the NCAA or the NJCAA, or what have you and go, ‘We might have something for you, we don’t know if these guys are cheating or not.’ I’ve never seen that. It’s all crazy.”

Marcus Clem can be reached at marcus.clem@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @AdAstraGorilla

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