School leaders taking bullying incidents seriously

Published: 1/8/2019 9:37:07 AM
Modified: 1/8/2019 9:37:12 AM

The leaders of two area school districts have lately come in for criticism from parents over how they handled complaints of racial harassment.

The good news here is that our school administrators — in Turners Falls and in Athol — are taking allegations of racist behavior seriously. Some people might complain about how they have gone about this important and serious task, however, and some parents have.

Athol-Royalston Regional School Superintendent Darcy Fernandes has launched an investigation into reports some Middle School girls basketball players made racist remarks toward members of another team last December.

Parents, who don’t believe their children are guilty of the accusation, were angry their children were talked to sternly by administrators without the parents being directly notified or present. One parent said the Athol team had been harassed by the opposing team’s players and argued Fernandes had chastised the local girls without all the facts.

Fernandes said the investigation is ongoing but choose not to apologize for his administrations handling of the affair so far.

Meanwhile, the Gill-Montague Regional School District superintendent came in for criticism from parents of a black child who says he was the target of racist taunts including use of the N word. The parents say it wasn’t the first time and felt the administration wasn’t responding forcefully enough.

School Superintendent Michael Sullivan acknowledged the concern of the parents and noted that there had been other similar complaints at other schools in the district, triggering a system-wide review of how the schools respond to reports of racism, sexism, bullying and similar incidents.

“The schools in our district already do a lot to address both facets of this issue, but incidents of students calling peers the N word in three different schools have drawn our attention to the need to do more now,” Sullivan wrote in a Dec. 6 email to parents. “In addition, the feedback we are receiving from families and staff reinforce this understanding.”

Sullivan now plans to review reports from the past year to see if the schools need to respond differently and will share what he’s learned at this Tuesday’s school board meeting.

He also plans to have principals “use part of their next faculty meeting to review our expectations that all incidents where a student is a target of harassing words or actions of a civil rights nature, whether it be associated with race, religion, class, disability, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation, will be addressed immediately by any staff member present.”

The parents who brought this to a head may feel this is a case of doing too little, too late, but we think this aggressive approach is a good thing, and better late than never.

Accusations of racism, especially these days, come highly charged for those accused and those accusing, and we feel bad for public school administrators who we expect to do the right thing always, but have to navigate these treacherous straits to everyone’s satisfaction. Not always possible.

Without trying to prejudge any particular circumstance, we see school leaders taking seriously concerns and reports of bullying, racial harassment and name-calling. And that’s a good thing. We hope that over time all our school districts will evolve protocols for investigating such complaints thoroughly and fairly – procedures acceptable to accused and accusers. And we hope that then such vigilance and zero-tolerance around violation of everyone’s civil rights will teach all our students another important lesson.

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