Supt. Dr. Anna Nolin issued a follow-up message this week to the Natick Public Schools community regarding the alleged racist and discriminatory acts referred to in a memo issued right before winter break.
The memo is getting a fair amount of scrutiny on social channels, with some suggesting the whole situation should have been handled more discretely and others applauding the approach for its transparency.
Dear Natick Public Schools Community,
We wanted to provide a follow up communication to give you updates and clarifications on the incident before break that resulted in both a police investigation for a hate crime, and a school based investigation into an athletic team’s group chat and communication. It is important that you hear the updates because, as with any deep community conflict, emotions, assumptions and gossip abound.
The Natick Police Department and the Assistant District Attorney’s office have concluded an investigation and determined that no hate crime has been committed in this case. Additionally, the school based investigation has concluded that hazing and/or bullying is not present amongst the student athletes and group that was investigated. Additionally, the report of violence toward girls and women was unfounded with no evidence of that present throughout the investigation. What was present and confirmed by many of the teammates, was an acknowledged and collective acceptance of toxic speech related to religion, race, culture, ethnicity, and sexual preference. While no specific individual targets were identified in the chat sections we obtained, the students acknowledged that this type of communication was present and consistent in the team’s digital communication and in the locker room which points to a culture of acceptance with this type of speech within the team.
This lack of hazing and bullying distinguishes our event from issues like those recently noted in Danvers, but aligns us with 35 other communities in MA who, since the fall of this year, have experienced hate speech against people of color, Jews, those with disabilities and against those identifying as gay/lesbian/transgender in athletics (statistic from MIAA Diversity Equity and Inclusion Office). We continue to explore whether this type of culture permeates other groups such as extracurricular activities, as well as athletic teams.
It is important that the community understand the complexity of situations like this one with our sports team. Our primary work in a school system is to create safety, ensure inclusion, and educate our students within that safe, inclusive environment. A student cannot fully access academic or athletic excellence if they experience the types of behaviors identified in these communities or within our own team’s behaviors.
It is also important for us to create that same safety for the athletes in question. Some of their parents have shared that people have driven or walked by them shouting “racist” and other names at them–painting all teammates as that. This behavior is also not acceptable or safe nor is it warranted for some of the team members. Some community members have called for student expulsion. Expulsion is not allowed in MA schools except for a few exceptions including felony behaviors, and it may interest the community to know that as of November of this year, all administrators in MA are also required to take restorative measures prior to discipline like suspension, except in rare cases. No matter what the state says, as a school system, we do not discount students who make mistakes, even egregious ones. We set corrective expectations, teach, stand next to them as they learn, reflect, repeat. This group of students is a team and we have tried to individualize discipline and teach them as a team.
“Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it.” –Hannah Arendt
All the students involved–victims and perpetrators–are our students and community members. Our collective mission has to be to learn to work together and heal from these actions; we must help our young people learn and build the type of conflict resolution and skills in living and working in a diverse society that they will need all of their lives as the future of our country and world.
There were four layers of student involvement in this situation: those who were bystanders, those who were victim bystanders, those who participated in hate speech and those who deliberately led hateful acts and speech and distributed them to wider groups beyond the team. The speech is horrible and offensive and violates the safety of racial and ethnic groups and those with disabilities or varied gender identities or sexuality. Each student athlete case has been treated individually and both consequences and education have been personalized to the situation as well.
All families were afforded a private meeting with the principal and those meetings have been concluded. The Natick High School administration has taken appropriate steps and measures of student accountability and discipline where applicable, including the use of restorative and educational practices. We partnered with Northeastern University’s Center for Sport and Society for facilitation on toxic speech prevention and bystander training to educate students about the impact of their words and actions. The team had to work to convince the administrators and Northeastern staffers that they could return to play and what would be different, and they did. They will be returned to play and the adults and coaches around them will also work to address these behaviors.
Next steps will include conducting restorative discussion circles amongst student groups since some groups were traumatized by the viral videos and chats sent out of this experience. District Attorney Marian Ryan’s office has offered to collaborate with us and several faith groups and Jewish education groups have reached out as well. We are considering how to integrate more whole-school learning around hate speech and these issues with our high school students. We are under no illusions about the scope of the work ahead of us. There is also no one training that is going to solve this and we know that these behaviors permeate all of our community and society. We see the same dynamics within our parent and adult community and their interactions as well. It will take all of us in our community to address the roots of these behaviors. We are committed to the work ahead.
Some of you have written stating that these things “happen all the time” and our students of color, and LGBTQ students hear these things all the time, so what are you doing about that? Your teachers, coaches, and staff don’t do anything. We do! While we are not perfect, and the work is never done, I do want to take this opportunity to tell you what we have been working on.
Teaching and building the systematic process and reliable resources to stop hate and microaggressions whenever they arise has been a major focus of our district’s strategic plan in the past three years. The work has resulted in the following:
- Every teacher and every building having at least one year of anti bias and microaggression training, designed to have staff reflect on their own identity journey and how that may impact how they teach and interact with students and staff
- District and additional NHS involvement in the Harvard RIDES collaborative.
- A yearly equity training for students at NHS (2 years) led by NHS students and mentors.
- Increased diversity of representation in our libraries and classroom libraries; additionally, every elementary classroom received texts to ensure our students could see themselves in what was being read and featured in the classroom. Please note: such additions to our libraries do not change student learning expectations or standards for curriculum.
- All new teachers receive a training on selecting texts that reflect our community make up (required since 2014)
- Mandatory anti-bias training for all student athletes (new last year).
- Mandatory graduate work in race and bias for all new teachers within their first 3 years with us (this requirement has existed since 2008).
- Complete revision of how we hire, where we advertise job openings and the creation of a diversity in hiring vision, diversity hiring training and book study for all directors and administrators, and a teacher diversification partnership with the Department of Education.
- A major focus on hiring a more diverse staff–culturally, racially, linguistically.
- Continued use of Anti-Defamation League Training and Facing History and Ourselves case studies in genocide and digital citizenship at the middle school (since 2013) and courses in Holocaust, social justice, Civil Rights, African American History, African History, and law.
- Revised and new social-emotional learning curriculum K-8 which focus on self-reflection, regulation and communication skills for working through conflict/difficult situations.
- Hiring of a Social Emotional Learning and Equity Director to help to cement the learning and long-range planning for this work in our district.
Despite the work in progress, we, like communities nationally, are grappling with violations of our core values of inclusion, safety and belonging. I invite you to join us in the work and discuss this matter with your family and students. We continue to contemplate how we can partner with families to grow ever stronger in these efforts.
Thank you for reading and for your partnership in support of our students.
Superintendent of Schools