There is a sense that many in Danvers hope a recently released agreement between the schools and the state attorney general’s office will end the controversy surrounding the town’s troubled high school hockey program.
But the deal isn’t the end of the matter. It’s just the beginning.
School leaders must prove – to the attorney general and, more importantly, to the town’s residents – that they are committed to preventing racist and bullying incidents and that they will fully investigate transgressions when they occur. Those are noble, achievable goals. To reach them they must begin by offering a full, open accounting of what brought us to this point. Only then can Danvers citizens accurately measure the town’s progress.
Attorney General Maura Healey’s office launched its investigation earlier this year after reports surfaced of hazing rituals among players on the 2019-20 hockey team that involved racist, homophobic, and physically and sexually abusive behavior.
The details that emerged over the past year have been both shocking and disheartening. Players stuck teammates with a sex toy when they refused to shout a racial epithet during “Hard R” Fridays. Players shared group text chats with racist and homophobic images and held “Gay Tuesdays,” when an unnamed player says he and others were touched inappropriately while naked in a darkened locker room.
The attorney general’s office said the racist, homophobic and antisemitic behavior had been going on for “several years.” It came to light only after one of the players went to the media.
It is clear school leaders failed their students. Rather than addressing the issue head on, coaches, administrators and School Committee members chose instead to first cast a blind eye to the accusations. Then they broomed them with a series of half-hearted investigations, heavily redacted reports and bland public pronouncements.
The district took “some disciplinary action” against several students, the AG’s office noted. To date, however, no adult has faced any official sanction. Longtime Superintendent Lisa Dana went on medical leave in December and will be allowed to retire later this year with $ 280,000 in unused vacation and sick time. Danvers police Sgt. Steve Baldassare, who was the team’s coach during the transgressions, was only recently reassigned as the school resource officer. There is no word on whether he faces disciplinary action from his department’s superiors.
The Police Department investigated the students’ claims of abuse and found no basis for criminal action. It is difficult for town residents to understand their reasoning, however, because officials refuse to release an unredacted report from a private investigator hired by the school district. How else can we trust an investigation that involves one of the department’s own officers?
The AG’s office said that investigation by an outside law firm revealed misconduct that was “significantly more severe” than the school district or police had revealed, adding that school leaders did not give adequate consideration to whether the misconduct may have created a “hostile environment”. for some players.
The AG’s letter paints a picture of an administration more interested in covering up its failings than addressing them.
School officials, the AG’s office said, “too frequently did not effectively inform the community of the nature and scope of what had happened.” And again, these would mean that you have to spend for these processes.
“We understand the seriousness and complexity of these issues and pledge to do better,” Keith Taverna and Mary Wermers, acting co-superintendents, said in a statement after the AG’s report was released. “We know words must be followed by actions.”
That is easily rectified by releasing an unredacted version of the private investigator’s report.