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    Sunday, July 21, 2024

    Police investigating after Conn. child reportedly endures months of racist harassment from peers

    Advocates are questioning East Haddam officials’response after hundreds of graphic and racist photos, text messages and videos were reportedly sent to a middle school student of color for months without repercussions.

    At an emotional Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, dozens of speakers said they were “appalled” and “saddened” by what happened in the town and are demanding answers. Representatives from the Middlesex County chapters of the NAACP and BLM 860 were there at the request of the student’s family.

    East Haddam Superintendent Dr. Teresa DeBrito began the meeting by saying the school district does not tolerate racist messages.

    “My update this evening has one focus: we are deeply concerned about the disturbing footage involving students. The immediate response was to involve law enforcement and we did take action,” DeBrito said. “What has been on display is not reflective of the community I came to know and not representative of the values of this board. However, we will not ignore the reality of what has occurred and the urgency to be responsive. Our community is suffering and much harm has come from these actions, there is no time to rest.”

    The NAACP and the East Haddam Board of Education opened an official investigation on Tuesday into the allegations that hundreds of graphic and racist photos, text messages and videos were being sent to an eighth grade student of color at Nathan Hale-Ray Middle School by 10 other students, according to the district. The messages were being sent to the student in a message group named after the KKK.

    Anita Ford Saunders, president of the Middlesex County NAACP, told board members she would like to see the incident investigated as a hate crime. Saunders, who has been in contact with the family, said it was the father of the student who saw the messages on his child’s phone and took action.

    The child’s father went to school officials asking for help, she said, weeks before any investigation was officially launched. Speakers were critical of officials’ response as they said the harassment continued for months without consequences.

    “East Haddam, you are living your George Floyd moment,” Saunders said. “Let’s be clear, we have not seen the terror of a man being murdered and smothered in front of our eyes. But when you choke the life out of a culture, you are preventing someone from breathing. You are preventing a child from living the life they were destined to live. You are preventing a young soul from thriving. Look inside yourselves, you knew this was happening on some levels, how dare you let this fester.”

    Hartford resident and BLM 860 vice president Ivelisse Correa also spoke at the meeting.

    “I’m here today because that could have been my own son,” Correa said. “I’m absolutely horrified because I know had this student reacted in a different manner, I might not be here right now, because he would be in juvenile detention. There would have been consequences for a negative reaction, much swifter than what has come for his harassment.”

    Correa said from screenshots that were shared with her, the child being bullied and harassed said he “hates his color” and “hates his skin tone” in group messages with other students.

    “He’s going to carry that for life,” Correa said. “I would hope the district goes out of their way to seek counseling for this child and provide a safe environment not only for him, but other children of color that come into this district.”

    Others criticized what they perceived as a culture of racism within East Haddam Public Schools with some parents threatening to pull their children out of the district. Other parents questioned why the notification about the incident only went out to middle school parents and was not sent districtwide.

    “If I can get my kid out of here for the next year, I will,” said a parent at the meeting. “Unfortunately my child will spend another year here, but I hope not beyond that.”

    A high school student in town and an alumnus of Nathan Hale-Ray Middle School said she is fearful for her sister who goes to the school.

    “I’m just appalled by the reaction to it, the fact this could be ignored for months disgusts me,” the student said. “A school is supposed to be a safe place for a child to be able to express themselves. The average number of students in a grade in this town is around 70 so 10 students is 1/7 of the entire class. My sister is in this school and I am horrified that these are the people she is around.”

    The East Haddam Board of Education recently released a statement on the issue: “The East Haddam Public Schools Administration is deeply concerned with the disturbing footage that was brought to our attention involving children who attend our schools. An immediate investigation ensued, including law enforcement. Federal law and Board Policy prohibits the District from addressing specifics related to student records, discipline, or consequences. We continue to work tirelessly to create school environments where all individuals are safe, valued, and respected.”

    State police confirmed they are investigating the racist messages.

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