ORR did not do enough in responding to racist incident

May 5, 2020

To the Editor: 

I am profoundly disappointed, but certainly not surprised of the action or mis-actions, in my estimation, of the ORR school administration’s response to the recent and latest episode of racism perpetrated by an ORR high school student. I am intentionally not detailing the incident, nor giving the student’s name, as I would like, you, the reader of this letter to the Tri-Town community, to find an ORRHS student and talk to them.

The administration’s response is the usual to this sort of situation, of which there have been many. Countless parents have had to go to the high school and even some of the other district schools about situations affecting their children. Not all racial injustices have been perpetrated by students. The administration plays a major role as they seem to have no clue as to how to handle some of these situations, or they just chose to ignore them.

The Old Rochester Regional School District superintendent, high school principal and the district school committee had a perfect opportunity to do something beyond putting a bandaid on the cancer that has festered at ORR school system for decades — more blatantly and egregiously at the high school. Last June, a group met with the District School Committee, wherein issues at the high school and one elementary school incident were brought to their attention in great detail. The group was direct and pointed and requested the school take action. Not a single response to date. So, Tri-Town community, is it time for you to wake up and take some responsibility by demanding accountability from your employees?

Most recently, the cancer revealed itself to the Tri-Town communities by an evil social media post that in itself exposes the cancer I mentioned earlier. The poster, without realizing it, did the work of exposing what is in the hearts of too many people. A school administration that truly cares about all of its students would have taken a more thoughtful approach to the problem. Instead, their response was to meet with the students involved and devise a plan that would supposedly protect the black student, (full disclosure the black student is my granddaughter), by changing some classes and other superficialities.

In point of fact, the student should have been expelled from the school. Some cursory research on your part will reveal that black students suffer harsher disciplinary treatment than white students for comparable offenses. There is no question that a black student would have been expelled. Again, you do the research — educate yourselves. The black student and other black students should not have to see this white student in the hall. Whether classes return or not is irrelevant as a clear message needed to be sent. This incident will not be over when classes do return as positions would have been taken by other students and nothing will have been put in place or thought about to begin to change the culture at ORR, or the system at large.

The ORR student’s action was and is reprehensible. It cannot be defended. The memory of his actions will continue for a long-time. My granddaughter and other black students at ORR have suffered immensely because of this recent incident and other incidents as among other things, white students constant use of the N-word. When this happens in the classroom, I have heard that at least one teacher’s response is frequently “knock it off.” And, what do you say about a teacher who walks up to another teacher who approaches two black students to check student names against those on her clipboard and flippantly remarks something to this effect, “are you having trouble telling the black kids apart?”

The action of the school administration is the type of action that colleges and universities and even the military have taken, when campus/base/military rapes have occurred — protect the white male at all costs. Forcing the victims to have to see their perpetrator is cruel, evil and self-serving. Again, educate yourself in this matter, as well. Again, educate yourself by Googling articles on PTSD in black students.

It may surprise you to hear that I think it was totally wrong and another purely knee-jerk reaction on the part of UMass Dartmouth to rescind this student’s admission to the University. The discipline is upside down. University students by and large will not know who this student is, but ORR students know the student and that is where the suffering and agitation will continue. ORR students do not need to have this student in their midst. I believe it is also harmful to him. And, by the way, I care about what this student and his family is going through. I can only imagine what life has been like for them. Their suffering has just begun, but black students and families have suffered much longer and my granddaughter in particular, as she has so bravely taken up the struggle. It is heartbreaking to hear her say, “It is exhausting dealing with the racism at that school.”

I personally believe the University of Massachusetts should reverse their knee-jerk reaction to their admissions decision. They should also purpose to commit to taking steps to get involved with the communities in which they draw some students to help with some of these issues.

If a black student or maybe even a poor white student had committed a comparable act, fingers would be pointed at the parents. Parents would be blamed for their terrible parenting skills. It would be said that they obviously have not raised their child properly. A little investigation on your part will reveal that this young man’s upbringing is probably similar to how most of you readers raise or raised own your children. Is that the problem?

The views expressed in this letter are purely my own.

Yours truly,
Barbara Sullivan