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    Saturday, August 13, 2022

    Colchester responds to racist slurs incident at Ledyard school

    Colchester — Following reports of Colchester parents using racist slurs at a recent Ledyard basketball game, the Colchester Board of Education released a statement Tuesday offering assurances that incidents are being "reviewed with the utmost seriousness" but stressed that due process needs to be followed.

    The board urged people to bring concerns directly to school officials, rather than posting on social media.

    Also on Tuesday, Colchester First Selectman Andreas Bisbikos said "something did not add up."

    "As I spoke to parents who were at the game, they denied knowledge of any racial incident occurring," Bisbikos wrote in a public letter Tuesday evening. He demanded the Ledyard superintendent provide evidence of the racist slurs and if he can't, "he should resign effective immediately."

    Bisbikos said he also is unhappy with Colchester Superintendent Jeffrey E. Burt's handling of the matter. "I was extremely disappointed that our Superintendent jumped to a conclusion before a serious investigative process was conducted," Bisbikos wrote in the letter.

    Ledyard police are investigating the incident, and Bisbikos said he looks forward to their findings.

    Both the Ledyard and Colchester school districts had investigated and found that some Bacon Academy parents directed racist slurs at Ledyard players before the teams could leave the gym floor after Bacon Academy's win Feb. 5. Ledyard banned those spectators from its school facilities. 

    At that time, Burt had issued a written statement saying, “Following our investigation into allegations of offensive comments and negative behavior by Bacon Academy parents, we believe this behavior did take place and included racial taunts by some adults aimed at opposing youth players. This is unacceptable, and stands directly against our school system’s commitment to common decency and sportsmanship."

    On Tuesday, he said after preliminary investigations that "there is no evidence that any member of the Bacon Academy girls basketball team, nor any member of its coaching staff, made any racist comments before, during, or after the game." He also said there is no evidence that any other person made any racist comments during the game. Bacon Academy is Colchester's public high school.

    A comment on a video of the game "may sound like a racial slur, but the lack of any response at that moment by anyone in the Gymnasium leads us to believe that is not what was actually said in real-time," Burt said.

    In his own statement late Tuesday, Ledyard Superintendent Jason Hartling said his school district has shared its findings with Bacon Academy. Those findings include that at the “conclusion of the game, while our team was leaving the court, an adult spectator from Bacon Academy referred to our players using a racially inflammatory term, (n-words),” Hartling wrote. “This statement was heard by a member of our team and was immediately reported. Multiple interviews were conducted, and we have no reason to call into question what our student experienced.”

    Hartling said a video clip from The Day's GameDay broadcast was shared that was reported to contain a racial slur. He said something is shouted, and though what was said cannot be confirmed, “This clip was never the center of the original complaint.”

    Several Ledyard parents also have said they heard Bacon Academy fans making monkey sounds at Ledyard players during a December 2021 game. Burt denied those allegations.

    Some Ledyard parents recently came forward to criticize Burt's response to the Feb. 5 incident and called for more action, including suspending the Bacon Academy girls basketball team, implementing cultural sensitivity training and banning the parents from sporting events in the area. 

    Burt shared a series of action steps that the district will take, including reinforcing the athletic code of conduct, scheduling counseling opportunities for Black and Indigenous students of color, creating a coalition of student groups to identify next steps for diversity, equity and inclusion, and scheduling bias awareness training for Bacon Academy staff.

    New London NAACP President Jean Jordan said Tuesday the New London, Norwich and Windham-Willimantic branches of the NAACP are reaching out to the Connecticut chapter for assistance because the Feb. 5 incident does not seem to be an isolated incident in southeastern Connecticut.

    "We're reaching out for assistance in this matter because this seems to be more of a regional matter so the state should get involved," she said.

    In a statement, the Colchester Board of Education said the events at Ledyard High School are being "reviewed with the utmost seriousness," but the "appropriate processes must be followed to ensure that the proper parties are identified and held accountable and that guidance and support to our students, families, and staff is provided. When the systems and processes are circumvented, our institutions fall into chaos and our children are burdened with unnecessary emotional strain."

    The statement was sent to The Day and also will be posted on the Colchester public schools' homepage.

    The board called for support in creating long-term systemic change for the school and community, and also called for people to stop taking to social media to "point blame, and pass judgment without facts," as "reputations are being damaged and people, especially our children, are being hurt."

    The board said it denounces "the poor behavior and cyberbullying that has occurred in our community" and implored people to "reflect before they act."

    "Those that have acted in a way that does not reflect the mission and spirit of our school and community will be held accountable," the board concluded. "We need all of you to respect one another, use positive language, give support, and show forgiveness when someone has repented. Most importantly, we ask that you lead by example. These actions are what make a community great, and this IS a great community. The acts of a few will not, and cannot, overpower the positive force of the many."

    In his message, Burt confirmed that the administration has received a formal complaint that the district is investigating in accordance with the board's nondiscrimination policy and procedures.

    Burt said that when the district "receives a report or allegation of discrimination, we take these reports very seriously, including conducting a full investigation in accordance with our Board of Education policy and regulation. We are hopeful that Ledyard will do the same in this situation, and we await the results of their formal investigation."

    He said that since Feb. 5, additional concerns beyond the initial complaint have been raised in the news and on social media: "We encourage anyone who has additional information or would like to make a complaint to do so with the school administration."

    He detailed the action steps the district is taking. The school district is working with the National Conference for Community & Justice, or NCCJ, which is described on the organization's website as "a human relations organization that promotes inclusion and acceptance by providing education and advocacy while building communities that are respectful and just for all."

    By the end of the week, the Colchester school district will schedule counseling opportunities for Black and Indigenous students of color, announce "to all students and families triggered by this event that they may receive supportive services," and also reinforce the athletic code of conduct for spectators and participants at athletic events, according to Burt.

    Additional steps, to be taken by the beginning of March, include creating a coalition of student groups to identify potential next steps for DEI work, identifying 25 students from various backgrounds to undergo training from NCCJ and schedule bias awareness training, to be held by the end of the school year, for Bacon Academy staff.

    Students, teachers and families also will be provided a refresher by April 1 of a bullying and harassment policy and how to make reports, he said.

    k.drelich@theday.com

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