Danvers remains troubled by racially charged disturbances in its schools, as the high school wrestling team was suspended Tuesday after a team member allegedly used racist language, triggering a fight with another student, and the school discovered a team group Snapchat with “references to hazing and hateful and biased language,” according to principal Adam Federico.
The episode is particularly disturbing because of its possible parallels to alleged racist, homophobic, and antisemitic misconduct by members of the Danvers High School 2019-20 boys’ varsity hockey team.
Danvers is still coping with repercussions from a Boston Globe report in November that school, police, and town leaders concealed from the public for more than 16 months details of the hockey team allegations.
Federico’s initial response to the wrestling team allegations appear far more transparent than the district’s handling of the hockey episode. His predecessor, Jason Colombino, departed after the 2020-21 school year.
The latest incident also follows two separate discoveries of swastikas in the town’s Holten Richmond Middle School in the weeks since the Globe report.
School officials said they learned Tuesday of the fight between the wrestler and another student, which occurred on school grounds after school last week.
“The conflict had its origin in a video in which one member of the wrestling team used racist language and another student confronted that student,” Federico stated in a letter to the high school community. “The result of that confrontation was a physical altercation.”
He said the school has launched a full investigation and reported the incident to Danvers police, whose supervisor of school resource officers is Sergeant Stephen Baldassare. It was Baldassare who served as head coach of the 2019-20 hockey team and later resigned from coaching while the Globe was investigating the allegations.
Federico’s letter said an initial investigation of the wrestler’s fight “revealed other concerns related to a wrestling team group Snapchat” that included the hateful and biased language and references to hazing. He provided no additional details.
“While we believe not all team members are active participants in this chat, we will be suspending all team activities until our investigation is complete,” Federico’s letter stated.
He said, “School discipline will be handed out according to our student handbook,” and “further discipline and restorative action will be forthcoming.”
The wrestling team allegations surfaced the day after a Danvers High teacher, Todd Butterworth, who has children in the schools, criticized schools superintendent Lisa Dana and School Committee chairman Eric Crane during a board meeting Monday night.
Butterworth complained specifically about the district suspending teaching the book, “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You,” in the elementary schools. He asserted more broadly that Dana and Crane were falling short in their commitment to improving the culture of the schools.
“The actions you’re taking are not antiracist,” Butterworth told them. “The actions you’re taking are things that sound good but are not actual steps to make a change.”
Crane disputed the assertion, and Dana said she was committed to promoting change.
Federico, in his letter Tuesday, said the wrestling team episode “serves as an important reminder for students and families to review their use of social media and cellphones to reinforce that racist, biased, or inappropriate language will be addressed with disciplinary and restorative sanctions. We must continue to strive toward creating a respectful community in which everyone belongs.”
The Danvers wrestling team had been scheduled to open its season Wednesday at Triton Regional.
The program’s best wrestler in recent years was Max Leete, a three-time state champion who graduated in 2021. Leete, who is Black, was the high school’s representative on the school board and has been outspoken about the district’s challenges in combating racism.
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Bob Hohler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.