Natick Public Schools Supt. Dr. Anna Nolin issued a memo to the school community on Friday, as students and staff began their winter break, with disturbing news about “recent heinous acts in our high school” that could result in the Natick Police Department conducting a hate crimes investigation.
As of this posting, the memo was not posted on the school site for the general taxpaying public’s consumption, but has started to make the rounds online.
Earlier this month, Wellesley Public Schools informed the school community of an alleged racist incident at an away basketball game.
Dear Natick Families, Staff and Students:
We made it to the December break and through the darkest days of the year–at least in a seasonal sense. But we have not done so in other ways–student actions this week have darkened the days for many, and, most particularly our Black and Brown skinned students, Asian students, and our Jewish Students. Still under investigation are possible incidents involving violent speech against females in our system.
While I wrote my monthly message to you last week filled with the joy of our students’ work and the pending unity of the December holidays, I write to you today, to inform you of traumatic events in our district and surrounding communities that mean the darkness looms. I ask for your help in keeping the light alive by speaking with your children about these incidents and standing with us in community against racist and anti-Semitic actions and statements. Hate has no place in this school system or community.
This past week, two superintendents were threatened, one with violence and one with racial aggression simply due to who they were –a female superintendent and Black male superintendent, respectively– standing up for safety, care, inclusion, excellence and equity for all students. These made news headlines and can, to some, seem distant. However, in our school district, other discriminatory actions have also occurred of which you need to be made aware.
It’s a weird post-pandemic time. It seems the pressures of the pandemic have made people more raw, less tolerant, and more inward-focused on their own needs and needs of their family. Anxiety and grief over what has been lost or perceived to have been lost in the pandemic has amplified emotions and made tolerance for stress and conflict quite shallow.
Parents and students reveal this post-pandemic effect in various ways. Students have shown some dysregulated and risky behaviors in schools, and parents have shown more apathy and more extreme anger / emotional responses to things previously not demanding this manner of reaction. Keyboard warriors abound, few people talk to school staff personally.
Part of this behavior, in many school systems, including ours, had led to increased threats of violence, racism and discrimination. To the three anonymous emailers reaching out to me last night indicating we “cover it all up…” thanks for sharing that, but, on the contrary, we always dive, head-on to address the issues deeply and thoroughly and sometimes that means we cannot communicate until we have the right information to share. Do we always have the perfect answers to these matters? No, but we keep fighting the fight for true inclusion and belonging in our community.
I write to ensure you know, and in knowing, join the cause to end hatred and violence. I also waited until I could share with you the full scope and plan for restoration. As a school superintendent, my job is not only to shine light on issues, but to actually solve them and educate, model and guide all of our students through our actions and intentions. As school leaders, we do not have the luxury of being keyboard warriors only
Parents do need to know, however, that when an incident involves potential Civil Rights violations, hate crimes, hazing, sexual harassment, or other actions that violate law, careful, deliberate and ordered notifications and investigations have to happen in order to have such an investigation not be hampered by poor or premature communications. The police chief, NHS school principal and I have been working for the last 36 hours to ensure accuracy, legality and care for all regarding these recent heinous acts in our high school. I have filed with the Natick police for a hate crimes investigation which will run concurrent to our own investigation.
Specifically, NHS Principal, Jason Hoye, and his team discovered a racist act (a published video) against our Black students. Through that investigation, an anti-Semitic, anti-Ableism group sports team chat associated with one or more of our winter teams was also discovered; this then led to an additional investigation within the group involving potential violence towards girls.
The team who originated the hateful chat group has been shut down from season play and investigations occurred all day today to determine the scope of the hateful behavior. This team and others may be involved in this type of discriminatory and racist behavior. Any and all students involved in such behavior, even as bystanders, will be subject to possible investigation, discipline, and solutions to address this behavior.
The hateful culture of this chat and messaging will be addressed immediately and in lieu of their practices and games we will require participation in, at the start, training conducted by Northeastern University Center for Sport and Society in toxic speech prevention and bystander training and additional hours in the Anti-Defamation League’s Removing Bias and Hate in Sport groups.
I ask you to speak with your child about these acts. The core values of the Natick Schools and our vision for our graduates is that they can work and live in diverse and inclusive communities. Creating a healthy community means that we cannot tolerate such behavior and we cannot act as passive bystanders when these acts occur. From Kindergarten through Grade 12, we offer training and direct instruction on creating inclusive environments but we need your help as the most important teachers of your children to reinforce that message at home.
As the mother of two teens, I also ask you to inspect your child’s technology and become acquainted with the nature of their online lives. This often unpoliced area of teen life (and even in elementary and middle school lives) can expose students to hateful acts and in doing so they become party to it or become bystanders with harder than necessary choices to make.
I wish you a good December break, but I encourage you to have some deep discussions with your children about these matters.
Dr. Anna Nolin
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