Danvers school committee faces tough questions after report questions response to high school hazing

The Danvers school committee was caught in the eye of the storm of controversy at its monthly meeting Monday over the alleged hazing behavior of a high school hockey team, involving racial slurs and sexual abuse – and that the School and city officials had helped cover up the actions – after it was reported in the Boston Globe over the weekend.

An alleged victim of the hazing, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described to the Globe what has been called ‘Hard R Fridays’, where players from the 2019-20 Danvers High School squad were hit with a toy sexual in the face until they shouted the n-word, and “Gay Tuesdays,” where players were forced to undress and were then inappropriately touched. More than half of the team also reportedly participated in a group discussion where participants shared offensive images and language.

A sense of need for greater accountability hung over the meeting, with committee members and the public conversely calling for unity and change after the intricacies of its bureaucratic relationships were publicly exposed. .

The details of the article touched the hearts of the committee and the city on Monday.

“I do not believe that any appropriate action or disciplinary action was taken as a result of the independent investigation into the charge of racism and hazing within our high school hockey program,” said Alice Campbell, member. of the school committee, elected in May. “It is unacceptable that no adult has been held responsible. I believe that with the lack of real action, we have let down our students, teachers, parents, caregivers and community members. We have been told that these actions do not reflect the core values, mission and vision that we seek for our school system, yet the lack of transparency and action says otherwise.

One of the key questions at play during the meeting was what officials knew about the alleged misconduct and when, as well as how the negligence – if any – should be handled.

Danvers school committee secretary Arthur Skarmeas called Globe reports suggesting that school officials had deliberately swept the issue under the carpet as a “pile of crap”. City officials wrote two reports and commissioned a third, according to The Globe, after learning of the problem in June 2020.

“This and the pandemic have been the main focus of what we’ve been doing here for the past year and a half,” Skarmeas said.

He and other members of the committee stressed that they have been limited in what they can publicly disclose due to student privacy laws.

School committee member Robin Doherty, also elected in May, called for a vote to put District Superintendent Lisa Dana on administrative leave while the committee considers its upcoming decisions. Doherty’s motion was eventually tabled for a later session.

Baldassare, Danvers’ coach and police sergeant at the time, denied investigators any knowledge of the alleged hazing, according to The Globe. He resigned over the summer.

But, whatever the reaction to the Globe article, it was clear that it had created a feeling that change was needed.

Danvers High principal Adam Federico, who took over as head of the school over the summer, told the meeting that the article reinforces that work to improve the school community must continue.

“Today, I spoke to all students and faculty not only to salute the Boston Globe article, but to ask everyone to come together at our school to continue working to make it a better place.” , did he declare. “Tonight I ask for the help and support of the entire Danvers community.”

Federico said all athletes have received anti-bias training and the goal is to extend this training to the entire student body.

Gabe Lopes, who has lived in Danvers for about five years, said the students deserve a fresh start and called for a change in the leadership of the school board.

“Some of you, especially here, please step back and let the city heal and start over,” he said.

However, how deep the apparent problem goes and the level of response needed remains to be debated.

“There’s a disagreement, some people say, ‘Oh, it’s just a few people in this town, racism, homophobia, not really a problem, just a few bad apples.’ Other people think it’s pretty systemic and have talked about it, ”school committee chair Eric Crane said. “And the point is, I think it’s something that as a city – not just the schools – but with the citizens of the city, the central government, we have to consider: are we really the welcoming city? that we want to be? Are we teaching our students how to act appropriately and what they should do and accept others? “

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