BREAKING NEWS, Friday, Nov. 3, 5:30 p.m.–Wilton school officials are preparing to inform Middlebrook parents and students that they have identified the person responsible for posting hate speech on a student’s locker last week. A notice will be sent home to parents Friday afternoon from MB principal Lauren Feltz, to be followed by a notice to the entire school community from school superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith.
Smith confirmed to GOOD Morning Wilton that it was another student who put a post it note reading “Jews will burn” on a Jewish 6th grade student’s locker last Thursday, Oct. 26.
“We know who the student is. We’re going to follow our policy [for consequences]. We’re going to work with the family and we’re going to move forward,” Smith says.
The name of the student is not being publicly released to anyone, however, given his/her age and status as a minor. School policy also prohibits administrators from releasing information on exactly what the consequences to the student will be. Smith has said in the past that based on evaluating the circumstances, the possibility exists that the student will face suspension and/or expulsion.
Smith himself was told about the investigation being completed and the student being identified by police only two minutes before the start of a meeting with parents Thursday night to discuss the event and how the school would be responding.
“I was pulled aside and told that School Resource Officer Diane MacLean, working with our middle school administrators, identified the student. I shared that with parents in the room that night, and at the end of the night, Lauren sent a note to the staff,” Smith said.
He plans to include information in his newsletter to the district, following Feltz’s email to Middlebrook families. He confirmed that Middlebrook students were told about the investigation’s outcome on Friday during school.
After Smith shared the information with the people who attended the Thursday night meeting, some of the attendees reported that the superintendent seemed emotional when making the announcement, and that he made a reference to ‘mental health’ during his remarks.
“There was some confusion about what I was intending to say. I was not referring to any specific child, including the child who was just identified. Someone misidentified my comments as suggesting I believed this child has some mental health issues. I was not thinking that,” Smith says. “What I was responding to, is that as a community we need to keep in mind that we have kids with needs, and we need to provide support. Our job is to be supportive and wrap around kids; to model, to teach, to reinforce expectations. But first and foremost our job is to support.”
He acknowledges that it’s a complex situation, given the age of the children involved, but that it doesn’t take away from the overall conversation of diversity, inclusivity and hate that needs to continue in the community.
“There are a number of steps we’re taking and we’re in very good company here–we have raised a conversation that needs to happen, we have a lot of work to do and we’re going to do it. I am absolutely committed to working with the ADL. We’re putting together plans to bring their ‘Step Up’ program to Middlebrook. [MB teacher] Cindy Beck-Moore is going to launch a new Upstander Empowerment Club. We’re laying the groundwork to bring the ADL’s ‘Names Can Really Hurt’ program to the High School next fall–it’s long overdue,” Smith explains.
As part of Smith’s deep dive into the conversation with the Anti-Defamation League, he learned about a ‘No Place for Hate’ program the organization offers that is just becoming supported in Connecticut, and with Wilton Schools becoming involved, the district has the opportunity to be one of the leaders in getting it up and running.
“We looked at the curriculum, and it aligns so perfectly with the [school climate] work we’re doing with Bill Prebble and student leadership teams. So school climate coordinator Kim Zemo is going to pull together a committee to integrate some of those lessons. My goal will be to do that this year, and continue to work and refine it, so that when ADL is ready to support the program in CT, we can be among the first set of schools to be identified as ‘No Place for Hate’ schools in the state.”
Smith added that the ADL will also help implement some staff sensitivity programs on diversity, and that he continues to learn about other awareness training programs that have been successful in other districts.
Finally, he has asked each of the building principals to put together action plans for each of their schools, “To encapsulate what they’re doing to respond uniquely based on the kids that are in their buildings. Once I have those we’ll put it all together and put it up on our website. And continue to work at it.”