Parents are concerned after racial incident involving Easthampton student

Superintendent Follansbee sent a letter to parents Wednesday morning

EASTHAMPTON, Mass. (WWLP) – 22News has been covering this story since last week. We now know the victim involved in an attack at Easthampton High School is the son of a school resource officer.

Dozens of people crowded a school committee meeting Wednesday night to voice concerns about how the school is handling a fight, involving four boys. The incident occurred after the victim posted a racial slur on social media.

22News asked School Superintendent Nancy Follansbee if the school is responsible for what students do outside of school. She replied, “Now, something outside of school hours, done by one of our students, had a negative impact on the educational program in our school, then we would be responsible for that.”

A student recorded the attack, which led to the arrest of an 18-year-old and two juveniles, who are being charged with Aggravated Assault and Battery, and Intimidation of a Witness.

Below is a letter Superintendent Follansbee sent to parents Wednesday morning:

Student March Update 4-5-17

As many in the community have had questions and concerns about the events that occurred last week, I am sending this message in order to give a factual account of what happened and the response of the School Department to the events that occurred.

Last Wednesday, a fight occurred after school in the high school parking lot. The fight was precipitated by a text sent by one of our students after school hours to a former girlfriend who does not attend our schools. The text contained a racial slur. The girl forwarded the text to someone who then posted it on Facebook. Three of our students started a fight with the student who sent the text. The police were called. The entire fight was videotaped by someone in the crowd watching the fight. The videotape was given to Principal Burke by the Easthampton Police Department. The students who started the fight were disciplined. The student who sent the text did not defend himself or fight back.  Although the text sent by the student was highly inappropriate and offensive, it was a private communication, did not occur on school premises, and its recipient is not one of our students.  Had any one of these circumstances been different, the sender of the text would have been disciplined.  However, since the conduct occurred off school grounds and was not directed to one of our students, we were limited in our ability to address this situation directly, other than with administrative counseling.

On Thursday, students staged a peaceful march from the high school to the Municipal Offices to share their concerns and to ask questions. The Mayor and I met with the students and asked them to return to the high school, where we knew they would be safe, and we would meet with them there to listen to their concerns and answer their questions.   At 1:00 Mayor Cadieux, Police Chief Alberti, Principal Burke, Assistant Principal Welson, and I met with the entire student body in the gymnasium. We listened to their concerns and answered their questions in the time we had, and advised them how to continue to communicate with us if their concerns or questions had not been answered.   Principal Burke continues to meet with faculty and students in many different formats to answer questions and address concerns.

After the fight occurred there were a number of social media postings and email messages to administration questioning why all the details of what happened had not been shared. Under the Family Educational Law and Privacy Act (FERPA) and state law, administrators and staff in public school districts are prohibited from releasing certain student information. These laws were put into place to protect all students and their families. Please rest assured that we take this matter, both the original text message and the response thereto, very seriously. We condone neither discriminatory conduct nor violence in response thereto.  We pride ourselves on being a community where all members are valued and respected and where disputes are settled in a respectful and peaceful manner.

Principal Burke has a number of things in place at the high school to promote respect for diversity, including support for many student clubs that focus on inclusivity.  This year Principal Burke also arranged to have a course, Diversity 101, taught at the high school by an adjunct professor from Holyoke Community College.  Mr. Alvarez, a faculty member at the high school, is starting a Diversity Club as well.  In addition, Principal Burke plans to have a diversity training for faculty in May and trainings/ presentations for students and families before the end of the school year.

Thank you to all members of our community who have sent me emails with feedback and suggestions for how we can continue to strengthen an inclusive environment in all of our schools.  We appreciate the contacts we have been given and are considering many of the ideas that were shared with us.  We have many reasons to be proud of our schools, our students and staff, and our community.  The events of last week and the aftermath, though difficult, provided our educational community with many teachable moments, and I am confident we will learn and grow stronger together as a result.

Nancy Follansbee

Superintendent