Easthampton School Committee investigating Mayor Nicole LaChapelle’s alleged racist comments during school visit

  • Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle will be investigated by the Easthampton School Committee for alleged racist remarks she made to a high school student during a recent visit to the school. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/14/2022 12:26:41 PM
Modified: 4/14/2022 12:26:25 PM

EASTHAMPTON — The School Committee intends to investigate an alleged racist interaction between Mayor Nicole LaChapelle and a high school student enrolled in Easthampton’s We the People civics class.

During the April 12 School Committee meeting, member Megan Harvey said the committee had received a letter from Shawn Sheehan, a science teacher at the high school and president of the Easthampton Education Association, urging for an investigation into the incident that took place earlier this month.

“That request is about the mayor and I need to make two comments,” Cynthia Kwiecinski, chairwoman of the School Committee, said. “We do not condone racist behavior or comments of any kind and we will be conducting an investigation.”

In a public Facebook post that has since been deleted, the mother of the high school student alleged that LaChapelle made “racist remarks” to her daughter in front of the whole class and “used the F-word” before she left the class.

The post quotes the mayor as saying, “You are different … you don’t talk like a white person.” And then the mayor later said, “No one f—ing cares … I had a rough morning,” according to the post.

Because the investigation is in its early stages, Kwiecinski did not expand on what the probe would entail. She indicated that the School Committee intends to “thoroughly explore what happened,” but will wait to do so until the mayor returns from a trip out of the area.

In an emailed statement to the Gazette, LaChapelle said she visited with high school students to help celebrate their participation in an upcoming competition. During the visit, she made comments that she said she had intended to motivate students of color. However, the statements had the opposite effect and offended a student instead.

“Upon learning that I had offended the student, I immediately agreed to meet with the student and the student’s family, who explained to me why my comments offended them. And I listened. I acknowledged that I had made a mistake, and I issued a letter to the student and the student’s family apologizing for the mistake that I made,” she said. “I cannot stress enough that I want to be an ally for students of color. I did not mean to offend the student, but I did. I take ownership of that mistake and, as an ally, pledge to do better. Most importantly, I want to commend the student for being brave enough to raise this issue with me in such a thoughtful and mature way.”

LaChapelle also issued an apology to the parents of the student in an April 4 letter. In the letter obtained by the Gazette, the mayor stated that she intended for her words to be helpful, but sees now how insensitive they were and how they made a “teenager feel singled out.”

“What I said was discriminatory, period, regardless of intent. My choice of curse words in the same classroom was inappropriate,” LaChapelle wrote. “I wanted to emphasize how strong the students were and to remind them to be confident in the face of the judges. I was trying to encourage them to believe in themselves and not worry about what others think. I’m so ashamed that the impact of my words was the exact opposite.”

Superintendent Allison LeClair said she is aware of the incident and pending School Committee investigation. If this was an issue concerning a school employee, then LeClair’s office would conduct an investigation, she said.

“We take allegations of racism very seriously and have worked hard to create a safe, inclusive environment in our schools,” she said.

School Committee member Marin Goldstein, said that while he wasn’t there when the incident occurred, nor has he seen video footage that some have said exists, he found the news of the incident very concerning. Kwiecinski acknowledged Goldstein’s remarks, but said that discussion would be put on hold until LaChapelle had the opportunity to speak for herself.

Prior to the committee’s announcement of Sheehan’s letter, Sheehan also advocated that the City Council investigate this incident at the council’s April 6 meeting.

“I would like you folks to do an investigation on our mayor,” he said to the council. “She said something racist when she was a guest judge at We the People and it’s all over Facebook. It’s all over social media. She needs to be held accountable.”

In an interview with the Gazette, City Council President Homar Gomez condemned racism and said he is considering options on how to proceed. Gomez said that the most important is the mental health of the family and the girl.

“It hit me personally, because I do have an accent. …My goal is to protect people that are being abused or discriminated or marginalized because of color of their skin or the way that they talk,” he said. “The society that we live in today is a society of respect and we should know better.”

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.

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