Racist, homophobic, and antisemitic graffiti was found in a student bathroom at a Danvers middle school, town officials disclosed Tuesday. The discovery marked the latest in a series of disturbing incidents in the North Shore community.
The news comes a day after school leaders came under fire at a Danvers School Committee meeting over their handling of allegations of violent racist and homophobic misconduct involving the 2019-20 boys’ varsity high school hockey team.
Those leaders, including school Superintendent Lisa Dana and School Committee Chairman Eric Crane, joined other Danvers officials in reporting the latest incident to the community.
“A student or students wrote homophobic and racist statements, along with two swastika symbols” in a bathroom at the Holten Richmond Middle School, they wrote in a prepared statement.
“This hate crime and type of hateful behavior has no place in our Danvers Schools or any place in our community,” the officials wrote. “It will not be tolerated. We are incredibly disappointed that this type of behavior has occurred in our school and understand the frustration of the community. "
The Globe reported recently that for more than 16 months, Danvers officials had concealed the alleged abuse in the hockey locker room as well as details of deeply offensive language in texts allegedly exchanged in a group chat by members of the team.
Two school committee members, Robin Doherty and Alice Campbell, called at the board’s meeting Monday for Dana to be placed on immediate leave because of her role in the episode. Several residents who attended the board meeting called for Dana and other town officials who were responsible for responding to the allegations to resign.
The school board, citing personnel policies, scheduled a closed-door meeting next Monday to discuss the matter.
The alleged hate crimes have pushed Danvers toward a leadership crisis, with residents increasingly calling for change. Dana has served as the town’s superintendent since 2004. Her contract, which the school board extended by a year in March, runs through 2026 and currently sets her base salary at nearly $197,000.
“To regain trust, the community deserves transparency and a role in moving forward,’’ said Robert Trestan, Northeast regional executive director of the Anti-Defamation League. “Condemning acts of bias is a good first step but must be followed by action. Healing in the aftermath of hate requires accountability at all levels, including investigations of past incidents, curriculum adjustments, leadership development initiatives for staff and students and stakeholder engagement.”
Danvers has been roiled by several other racially charged episodes. In the summer of 2020, residents protested the fire department flying “Thin Blue Line” flags on emergency vehicles amid heightened tensions over George Floyd’s murder.
In May 2021, a Black Lives Matter sign disappeared from the Northshore Unitarian Universalist Church in town, and a piece of rope fashioned like a noose was found hanging on the church’s welcoming sign.
And, in September, a Black couple visiting a Danvers orchard with their children alleged they were racially profiled when a manager and security guards accused them of stealing apples. The couple said a Danvers police officer then admonished them for “playing the race card.”
In their statement Tuesday, Danvers officials said, “We are acutely aware that this most recent incident fits into a broader pattern – both within our schools and in the broader community – that includes allegations of racial profiling at a local business, an apparent noose left outside a local church, an investigation into racist and homophobic behavior last year by student athletes, a Confederate flag flown in our downtown as part of a political rally, and a swastika discovered in the woods behind the middle school.”
They wrote, “We want to be crystal clear in our condemnation of these acts, actions, and allegations. Individually, they are ugly, unacceptable, and have no place in Danvers or in any community. Collectively, they are proof that there’s much work to be done.”
The letter was signed by Dana, Crane, Dutrochet Djoko, chairman of the town’s Human Rights and Inclusion Committee, and town manager Steve Bartha.
They wrote, “This incident, as well as those over the past few years, reinforce the urgency of the work ahead of us. … We implore the community to help us in recommitting to kindness and dignity.”
The problem extends beyond Danvers, said Dan Lebowitz, executive director of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University.
“At some point, we need to understand as a larger community of conscience that this level of racism, antisemitism, homophobia, and other forms of hate aren’t endemic just to Danvers but are instead epidemic and systemic throughout multiple institutions,” Lebowitz said.
Danvers officials said the police and school administration are investigating the latest incident at the middle school.
The high school hockey team, meanwhile, needs to find a new home. After the Globe’s report over the weekend, the team was banned from its previous home, the Raymond J. Bourque Arena at Endicott College in Beverly.
The college, in an e-mail to the community, said the hockey team’s alleged abuses and the town’s “lack of transparency are in direct conflict with Endicott’s values and commitment to community.”
Correspondent Matt Doherty contributed to this article.
Bob Hohler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.