Today school personnel had the opportunity to meet with representatives from the Anti-Defamation League, the U. S. Justice Department and the Center for Community Development and Civic Engagement at Fitchburg State University. The reason for the meeting was to begin to think about the pathway forward as a community in unity. These representatives told us that what our school and community had experienced was unprecedented. They had an opportunity to look at our curriculum, methodology, pedagogy and commended us for the work already firmly in place to promote respect, tolerance, and appreciation of diversity. They also told us that we had done not only the right things, but we had done the work thoughtfully, with input from a variety of perspectives and with sensitivity. We will continue to be thoughtful and inclusive in our decision making in this work. It is critical that we create a space for everyone to move forward in good will as a community.
I never imagined that something like this could happen in our community. But it did and my role as Superintendent has been to investigate and resolve the situation. The fact that our district is subject to investigations of racial discrimination and civil rights violations that require the attention of the Governor, Commissioner of Education, the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Office and Department of Justice is beyond belief. Throughout this investigation it has been my responsibility to manage multiple personalities and groups. Every decision I made has been based on what was in the best interest and safety of players and students. It was my responsibility to ensure that comprehensive and thorough investigations into all allegations were conducted. For anyone to characterize the decisions made as anything but thoughtful and deliberate is inaccurate. Those decisions were based upon the facts available at that time, with input from informed sources and with oversight by intelligent and knowledgeable Town Officials.
A great deal of media attention has been focused upon the cancellation of the final two football games of the season. I never looked at the cancellation as a punishment although it is certainly viewed that way by many. In the end the safety of students and attendees at the game was deemed to be of paramount importance. At no time did I or any employee of the schools indict or implicate any of our players. In fact, my statements were that the graffiti investigation could NOT be limited to the team. A statement by the way that drew the ire of those making the allegations. I anticipate that we will be concluding our internal investigations before the holiday break. I remind everyone that an investigation into racial harassment is on-going. A separate investigation concluded that Lunenburg players did in both the varsity and junior varsity games direct racial slurs toward Worcester South players. Referees and our own team members confirmed that fact. That is why the apology was issued by the Athletic Director to the players of Worcester South.
I am grateful that the football players have been removed as suspects. Without a resolution to that issue we could not safely play the games. The highly charged emotional environment would have made it unsafe to play. I heard that from our Athletic Director, my colleagues, and from security personnel. I regret that there is not an opportunity to play the game at this time. Winter season began on Monday and the football equipment has been sent out for reconditioning. Perhaps in our conversations with the players going forward we can identify something that may partially fill that void.
The day after the vigil, when our students returned to school, I had the opportunity to address the high school student body. I told them I believed in them, that this was a very serious situation. I talked about the acts of kindness that I’ve seen them demonstrate on a daily basis. I repeated the words that I first used in speaking to the press – this is not who we are. The students both former and present who spoke at the last school committee meeting did a great job representing their positions on both sides. They were articulate and respectful in their presentations. I want to commend the students at Lunenburg High School who have also responded admirably and done all that we have asked of them while at the same time being targets of mean spirited ridicule. They represent the best of us in how they have managed this extraordinary situation.
The holidays are upon us and it is time to come together in appreciation and gratitude. I want to conclude by saying how grateful I am for the caring and giving students of Lunenburg High School. I am confident that they will continue to reach out to care and support one another. I am grateful for the parents who share their beautiful children with us and with whom we work as partners. I am grateful to the dedicated professional educators and coaches of our schools, committed to the mission of lifelong learning, responsible community membership, diversity and tolerance. I am grateful for the public safety, public works, and public service personnel of the Town for the various services they provide the citizens. I am grateful to our appointed and elected officials who serve the community with diligence and fairness. And I am grateful to be a member of this community – a community committed to justice and tolerance and who come together to help and support one another in times of need. That is who we are.