Superintendent’s Update - November 21, 2013
Post date: Nov 23, 2013 3:57:19 PM
There have been a number of questions about the investigations we have made into various recent incidents. The questions have centered upon our process and our findings. Although there are aspects of these investigations that are continuing, I want to share what I am able to share about how those investigations were started, and where they stand. In putting this together I have had to rely on others for some of the information, so if I have accidentally mischaracterized anyone’s actions or statements, I will correct those in a future update.
There are four distinct investigations that have been done or are being done:
1. There was an investigation into an allegation in September of this year that a student athlete’s football cleats were filled with water and put in the trash, and that his bicycle tire was flattened while parked outside the school.
2. There is an investigation into allegations that football players used racially insensitive language during two football games against Worcester South High School.
3. There is a police investigation into racist graffiti spray painted on a student’s home. This investigation is being done by the police, so I will not have much to say about the status of this investigation. School officials are fully cooperating with the Lunenburg Police Department and FBI in the investigation.
4. There is an investigation into allegations that a student was being harassed based upon race by members of the football team.
Cleats and Tire:
With regard to the investigation into the cleats and bicycle tire, that investigation was done by the High School Principal immediately upon receiving the report from the parent the day after the incidents occurred. The parent reported that the student’s cleats had been filled with water and thrown in the trash. A teammate provided cleats to the student for practice that day. The student was interviewed as were other members of the football team, which did not result in any new information. The student in question was one of two students who had their cleats soaked and hidden, and there was no indication that there was any racial basis for this action. Upon learning of the incident the Principal also notified the coaches. The coaches spoke to the team members about this behavior that same day, and to our knowledge there was no further instance of this type of behavior. The bicycle tire incident was investigated by reviewing security camera video, which disclosed that no one tampered with the bike while it was secured at school. Based on that, there was no further action indicated with respect to the tire. The Principal checked in with the student several times after that to see if he knew of any further information, and to see how he was doing. The student did not provide any more information or indicate that he was having any difficulties with any other students.
Racist Words at Football Games:
The football game allegations relate to the Varsity game on November 1 and the Junior Varsity game on November 4. Here is a timeline of what occurred, based on our preliminary findings:
On Friday, November 1 there was a Varsity game in Lunenburg. During the game a coach for Worcester South reported to a referee that a Lunenburg player used racist language towards a Worcester South player at one point during the game. The referee questioned the player on the field, and was satisfied that the player did not make the remark. To our knowledge none of the five officials on the field heard any racist remarks from either team. The Lunenburg Athletic Director (AD) was at the game and interacted with players and coaches for both teams, but was never made aware of this allegation at the time.
On Monday, November 4, there was a Junior Varsity game in Worcester between Lunenburg and Worcester South High School that was ended by referees late in the game. A fight began with a shoving match after a tackle of a Worcester South running back by Lunenburg players on the Worcester South sideline. A flag was thrown by a nearby official for an out of bounds hit by a Lunenburg player. A physical altercation between players ensued. Then, players on both teams joined the fray, and after breaking up the fight the referees called an end to the game. The referees reported that racially insensitive language was used by Lunenburg players.
The AD spoke by telephone with the Worcester AD that evening about this game and the allegations from the November 1 Varsity game. The Lunenburg coaches also phoned the AD on the ride home to report the situation. An investigation into this matter commenced as soon as the bus returned to Lunenburg.
On Tuesday November 5, Worcester AD David Shea communicated with the Lunenburg AD regarding the Friday night incident. The Lunenburg AD related to the Worcester AD his observations at the Friday night game. The AD also met with the Principal, and further interviews of students and coaches were conducted.
On Wednesday November 6, interviews of students continued, and the Lunenburg AD spoke with the Worcester AD to update him on the progress of the investigation.
On Thursday November 7, student interviews continued, including second interviews with players identified as being closest to the area of the play.
Friday November 8 was a professional development day, so students were not in school. On this date, the Lunenburg Principal spoke with the South Principal. The Principal also notified the Superintendent of the allegations on this date. School was closed on Monday, November 11, for Veterans Day.
On Tuesday, November 12, the investigation continued, and on Wednesday, November 13, the administrators involved in the investigation met to compare notes and strategize. On that date, the Lunenburg Principal communicated with the South Principal with an update on the investigation. Additional investigatory activities followed on November 14 and the morning of November 15.
After the racist graffiti incident was reported in the early afternoon of Friday, November 15, the South High Principal was notified, and the preliminary investigation and response to this new incident took precedence over the investigation of the football game incidents for the remainder of that day. Students on the football team and coaches were re-interviewed between Monday November 18 and Wednesday November 20 in connection with both the football game and graffiti incidents, and other witnesses were interviewed regarding the football games.
Some additional steps remain to be taken with regard to this investigation. On Tuesday November 19, the Principal contacted the South Principal to set up a meeting between the two Principals and the two ADs to discuss the progress of the investigation and discuss how to proceed. That meeting occurred on Wednesday, November 20. Even when the investigation is complete, we will not be able to release identifying information or specific disciplinary consequences regarding students as that information is protected by state and federal law.
In the early afternoon on Friday, November 15, the racist graffiti incident was reported to the Assistant Principal by the Lunenburg Police. The Principal notified the Superintendent and the coaches, the decision was made to cancel the football game for that day, and the School Committee Chair was informed. The Principal emailed the South Principal regarding the new incident. School officials also met with the parent whose home was defaced.
On Saturday, November 16 the Superintendent met with the Town Manager, the Chair of the Board of Selectmen, the Chair of the School Committee and the Chief of Police to discuss the graffiti incident, and inform them of the investigations regarding the Worcester South football games. Internal meetings were also held among the Superintendent, the High School administrators, the coaches and the high school safety team. On Sunday November 17, a vigil organized by the Chair of the School Committee with astonishing support and participation from the broader community was held at the gazebo to speak out against racism and intolerance.
The Police investigation related to the racial graffiti is on-going. Since the graffiti is a crime and it occurred off school grounds, it is most appropriately handled as a law enforcement matter. We obviously take this matter very seriously, and we encourage anyone with any information on this matter to contact the Lunenburg Police at (978) 582-4531.
Alleged Harassment of Student:
After the racist graffiti was reported, the student targeted by this offense reported via his parents and through the news media that he had been the target of bullying and harassment by members of the football team. His parents told school officials that they had not been aware of this harassment or bullying prior to Friday, November 15; consequently that had not been reported prior to that time. Interviews have been conducted to gather facts regarding that matter as well, and that investigation is ongoing within the High School.
1. We have a problem and it needs to be addressed. First we need to complete the pending investigations and take appropriate action based upon the evidence. Then we need to figure out how to move forward.
2. The most important work we need to do is not about specific individuals or specific words, but about how we teach tolerance and live tolerance. This is work that we cannot do just in school or just in our town, and it goes beyond the playing field. We are making plans now about how to do this important work, and what groups and agencies can help us.
3. The issues we are dealing with are infused with high emotion. Open displays of racism are frightening reminders of past and present injustice that anger us and jolt us from complacency. At the same time, many feel that cancelling the football games targets and punishes many people in the community who are innocent of blame. I understand that the players and their parents are disappointed about the decision to cancel the games. The outrageous acts of vandalism on a member of our community and intolerant speech against Worcester South have both outraged and saddened the entire community. It is a very tough lesson for us all.
4. As a community we will continue to offer our support to Isaac and his family. They have been placed into a very difficult position by a despicable and deeply troubling act of cowardice.
Lunenburg Public Schools
1025 Mass. Ave.
Lunenburg, MA 01462
978-582-4100 X 210 (Office Phone)