Less than a month into the start of the school year, Wellesley High School Principal Dr Jamie Chisum has issued a notice to families of “a biased-based incident” involving a student.
The memo, forwarded to us by school community members, begins:
I am writing today to inform you about a biased-based incident we became aware of on Monday. Several students appropriately came to an Assistant Principal to report a student who had repeatedly written the racial slur used to describe African Americans on a website called “Discord”. “Discord” is a social media platform that describes itself as a site where you can, “create an invite-only place where you belong.” The writing took place intermittently between May of 2020 and November of 2020…
(Here’s more on Discord if you’re unfamiliar with the communications app.)
The letter says the student originally posted to the site anonymously but acknowledged writing it after being confronted by peers, and later an assistant principal. The student has expressed remorse, and the school has been working on the incident with the student’s family, according to the letter.
It was unclear from the memo whether the student had posted from school, or from off campus. We were not able to find anything in the Wellesley Public School bias reporting materials online about how the school system handles incidents that take place at school vs. off site. However, there are instructions that WPS employees must respond to “any bias incidents involving students.” We emailed Chisum and Dr. Charmie Curry, director of diversity, equity & inclusion, for clarification.
The memo prompted discussion in classrooms, as such communications always do, said WHS student Rachel White, speaking at the Wellesley School Committee meeting this week (at about the 32-minute mark) during her student rep report.
“There were lots of questions and confusion among students today about what actually happened and what the repercussions would be,” she said, noting that an hour was spent in 1 class discussing the facts and sharing reactions and feelings.
White encouraged the school administration to share more facts, while protecting privacy, and sharing more information about what sort of repercussions there are in the wake of such incidents.
“I think we can only work together to make our school more anti-racist if everyone can know what the facts are around this incident and incidents like it because we can’t discuss and reflect on what we can do to be better if we don’t all start from the same playing field,” she said at the meeting.
Entire contents of the principal’s memo, titled “Information on Biased Based Incident”:
I am writing today to inform you about a biased-based incident we became aware of on Monday. Several students appropriately came to an Assistant Principal to report a student who had repeatedly written the racial slur used to describe African Americans on a website called “Discord”. “Discord” is a social media platform that describes itself as a site where you can, “create an invite-only place where you belong.” The writing took place intermittently between May of 2020 and November of 2020.
Originally the student had posted to the site anonymously, but when confronted by peers first, and later by their house Assistant Principal, the student admitted to having written it and expressed remorse for their behavior. The posts have been deleted.The Assistant Principal is working with the student’s family and has already moved forward with consequences for the offense.
I want to emphasize to our students that there is no place for bias-based speech anywhere. There is no excuse and there is no justification for it. We condemn racist and hate speech in all its forms because of the pain it causes and the division it reinforces. And, we know moments like this reinforce the need to continue having conversations at school and at home about what happened and how it may have felt.
We have required equity training for all of our staff on what constitutes a bias incident, and how to use our reporting protocols to alert us of bias-based conduct or speech. Students as well as faculty and staff have access to our bias incident policy and know how to respond when these situations occur. We are proud of our students who came forward to report this incident.
Please take some time to talk about this incident at home. Perhaps your conversation might be about how you can be strong allies for members of our community who have been hurt by biased based speech here. Maybe this student didn’t realize the impact their actions could have or that they could be discovered, and that doesn’t at all change the way hearing this news feels to Black/African American members of our community. There is definitely collateral damage as a result of these posts. The concept of posting racist comments anonymously is an area of great concern and something we need to address as a community.
If you have questions or concerns please feel free to reach out to us here. We don’t want anyone to worry alone.
Update 10/1/21: Supt. Dr. David Lussier followed up Chisum’s message on Friday with one of his own to “Members of the Wellesley Public Schools Community.”
He wrote in part: “As the investigation into this incident continued during the week, our team learned that the breadth of these postings was even greater than originally known, with racial slurs used to target Black/African Americans, Muslims, Asians, and Jews. The fact that these posts were intended to be anonymous does not detract from the disturbing reality that any member of our community would think this is acceptable. It is not.”
We always appreciate “Members of the Wellesley Public Schools Community” sharing such messages with us at [email protected] since we realize the WPS community extends beyond those attending the schools and with kids at the schools.