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Arrest made in East Lyme High School bathroom assault

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East Lyme — An arrest has been made in connection to a fight in a restroom at the high school nearly two weeks ago that prompted a walkout by students.

East Lyme Police Department Chief Michael Finkelstein on Tuesday said a 15-year-old student was referred to juvenile court late last week for third-degree assault based on the Nov. 11 incident.

Finkelstein withheld all other information related to the arrest based on state Freedom of Information Act provisions to protect the identity of juveniles.

Footage on the social media platform Snapchat obtained by The Day shows a girl emerging from a stall to attack another girl in the public area of the lavatory. The victim was slapped and punched on the head, pulled by the hair and then stepped on and kicked as she lay on the ground protecting her head.

The student attacked was the author of a post recirculated among students on Snapchat earlier this year that said things like "segregation existed for a reason," "black people are insignificant due to the sole fact that they are black" and "I don't care about black people, and that's just the truth." The father of the victim in the bathroom fight has said she wrote the original racist message privately to another student between one and two years ago.

Finkelstein said the case remains open. "We are continuing to work with the families of all kids that were involved — victim and accused and witnesses — and the school to ensure the safest possible environment and to also continue to investigate what led up to it."

Police received a complaint from the victim's family the day of the incident, according to Finkelstein.

The victim's father, Andy Slager, told The Day on Tuesday that it was unfortunate the situation had to come to an arrest.

"The last thing I ever wanted to do was get the police involved," he said. "But I feel like in a way the school failed my daughter and the other girl."

He blamed the administration for not adequately addressing the contentious situation involving his daughter and several other girls that he said had been going on for months.

Slager has said the school — after a previous bathroom incident back in September, during which his daughter was verbally attacked and had water thrown in her face — assigned someone to provide security for his daughter during school.

"I think if the school had taken it more seriously to start with, all this could have been avoided," he said.

A parent of the student arrested in the incident declined to comment.

Superintendent of Schools Jeff Newton on Tuesday declined to comment on any disciplinary concerns.

There are also students who have been criticizing the administration's response to the situation — but for different reasons than Slager. Those students argue the racist remarks should have been condemned by school officials in the first place.

Roughly 250 to 300 students walked out of class last Tuesday to create a sense of urgency around the issue. The message emblazoned on signs and voiced by some students was "tolerating racism is racism."

The walkout was held the day after administrators hosted an assembly to give their support for a safe, orderly walkout and to start speaking more openly about the issue. Assistant Principal Henry Kydd put it this way: "Racism is wrong, and it's not welcome here."

Newton told parents in a letter emailed the day of the walkout that administrators, staff and students are working together to ensure the event "becomes a catalyst for continued work, effort, and dialogue" about diversity, equity and inclusion.

e.regan@theday.com

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