“These were cowardly, contemptible, and despicable acts that caused a significant disruption but will not detract from our learning or undermine our values of respect, equity, and community,” said Superintendent of Needham Public Schools Dan Gutekanst.
Needham police are investigating incidents involving “racist, ugly, and hurtful language and taunts” and a racial slur used by an elementary school student that disrupted remote learning instruction at two Needham schools this week.
Superintendent of Needham Public Schools Dan Gutekanst notified the school community of the “hate-filled” incidents in an email sent around 7 p.m. Tuesday.
On Monday and Tuesday, “an unknown person or persons managed to get into several Zoom sessions and disrupt classrooms at Pollard [Middle School] with racist, ugly, and hurtful language and taunts,” Gutekanst wrote; adding a description of a second incident at Sunita L. Williams Elementary School involving a student who directed a racial slur toward another student during an online class.
Reached for comment Wednesday, Needham police spokesperson Lt. Chris Baker confirmed the school reported the Zoom disruptions to the department and detectives and the town’s School Resource Officer will engage a set of specialized law enforcement services, including cyber crime investigators, provided through a consortium of over 40 local police departments known as the Metropolitan Law Enforcement Council, or, Metro-LEC.
“I can confirm that these incidents were reported to us last evening,” Baker wrote in an email to the Needham Times. “Detectives and our School Resource Officer are working with the schools to investigate the incidents. We will use the Metro-LEC Cyber Crime unit as a resource to assist in the investigation as well.”
School district responds
According to the superintendent’s email, the school district followed its own protocols in responding to an incident of bias and hate. Staff spoke with impacted students, staff, and families and noted plans, “to bring about appropriate dialogue, conversations, and healing;” and notified police, “so that they may investigate as appropriate.” The communication also notes legal action is on the table.
The “vile language” uttered during the middle school instruction was not directed at any person in particular, Gutekanst wrote; but, “it most certainly was offensive to any student, particularly a Black student or staff member who experienced it.”
Concerning the incident reported at the elementary school level, he noted the school district is, “emphasizing the importance of teaching our youngest students about the impact of words and behaviors and how actions that are racist are hurtful and are not tolerated.”
“I am extremely sorry students and staff were witnesses to, or in the case at Sunita Williams a victim of, this hate-filled language and that an individual(s) expressed this language in Needham classrooms where we strive to ensure an inclusive, welcoming, and anti-racist environment,” wrote Gutekanst
“These were cowardly, contemptible, and despicable acts that caused a significant disruption but will not detract from our learning or undermine our values of respect, equity, and community.”