Parents call for external probe of harassment, racism at EHS

  • Zach Crisafulli leads Easthampton high school students in a walk out Thursday morning in protest to what they say is a lack of response from administrators to several racial actions at the school.

  • Robert Miner, a student at Easthampton high school students holds a sigh in front of the mayors office after walking out of Easthampton High school March 29 morning in protest to what students say is a lack of response from administrators to several racial actions at the school.

  • Easthampton School Superintendent Nancy Follansbee speaks during a Schoo Committee meeting April 11 at the Municipal Building.

  • Easthampton High School principal Kevin Burke speaks during a School Committee meeting April 11 at the Municipal Building.

  • Parent Natalie Poirier, right, speaks beside Amy Pybus during a rally April 11 at the Easthampton Municipal Building prior to an Easthampton School Committee meeting. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Friday, April 21, 2017

EASTHAMPTON — With calls for an external investigation, incidents of hate speech and harassment have been collected by a group of Easthampton High School parents and sent to city officials and the Northwestern district attorney.

The alleged racism at the city’s high school was brought to light after a student walk-out last month.

The letter, signed by 64 parents and community members, urges an investigation of events noted in about 30 pages of documents from anonymous sources, as well as email correspondence with school officials. According to the letter, many students who have shared their experiences did so anonymously due to concerns with the climate at the school.

Parents Noreen Nardi and Natalie Poirier said the packet will help provide transparency to what’s going on inside the school.

“Students have reported unfair treatment and a hostile culture that allowed daily harassment based on race, religion and gender,” parents wrote. “Teachers have articulated fears for their own safety, lack of control over their classrooms, and an administration that silenced their concerns.”

Parents are calling also for a new school resource officer, and requesting that Principal Kevin Burke be placed on administrative leave until an independent investigation is completed.

On Thursday evening, Mayor Karen Cadieux, Superintendent Nancy Follansbee and Police Chief Robert Alberti said they had not yet received the packet.

District Attorney David Sullivan declined to comment also.

School Committee member Peter Gunn received the packet Thursday and said he promptly contacted a few of the parents he knew.

Gunn said the School Committee will try to collect as much information as possible, establish the facts and look into how the incidents fall under the school’s policies and procedures, as well as Massachusetts state law.

School Committee member Marissa Carrere said the district has a lot of of smart and dedicated teachers. And while there are always improvements to be made, Carrere said, many teachers are committed to getting better.

“The district is looking to address those concerns one by one,” Carrere said.

As for safety at the school, Alberti said there is no concern. While the school resource officer is on medical leave, two liaison officers are filling in. He said the school is also in close proximity to the police station.

“Easthampton schools are very safe,” Alberti said. “Anything that rose to the level of criminal activity or concern has always been reported to the police department.”

After a physical assault in the school parking lot last month, caught on video, in which three students punched another who allegedly used a racial slur in a message, the three were arrested on charges of assault and battery.

Some parents have said they shouldn’t have been arrested, but Alberti disagrees.

“Punching someone in the face is a criminal offense,” Alberti said. “We deal with fact and law.”

Carrere said the district attorney plans to work on a restorative justice program for the school which focuses on rehabilitation rather than punishment. Sullivan declined to comment.

“We are not interested in sending students into the criminal system,” Carrere said.

The next school committee meeting is 6 p.m. Tuesday in the second floor meeting area at the Municipal Building, 50 Payson Ave.

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.