Watertown Public Schools superintendent: Racism, cyberbullying remain a concern

Watertown Public Schools superintendent: Racism, cyberbullying remain a concern

WATERTOWN, Mass. — Boston 25 has been reporting on incidents of bullying and race-based harassment for weeks including accounts from current and former educators in Watertown.

This week, Watertown Public Schools Superintendent Deanne Galdston spoke with Crystal Haynes about what the district plans to do about it as more parents come forward.

A January 2020 meeting of the Watertown School Committee is not the first time Maria and Guy Hinkson have called on school leadership for help with bullying and race-based harassment in their daughters’ schools.

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The Hinksons say their oldest daughter was bullied for more than 10 years for everything from her health to dating a boy of color. They told me the district failed to act to protect her and they’re failing to act to protect kids like 13-year-old Lailah Mawanda, who told Boston 25 last month she fears for her safety after experiencing race-based harassment in school.

“People are constantly feeling like they’re not going to be helped.” said Maria Hinkson.

“What I’m looking for and I think what most parents are looking for is an action plan. Movement. Something that says, ‘Hey, we recognize there’s a problem,’” said Guy Hinkson.

In this exclusive interview, Galdston said with remote- and then hybrid-learning, reports are down but cyberbullying remains a concern.

Watertown Public Schools superintendent: Racism, cyberbullying remain a concern

“I believe systemic racism is an issue in the school institutions across the country and I don’t think Watertown is necessarily exempt. I certainly know we’ve seen race-based incidents amongst our students,” said Galdston.

Boston 25 asked about current discipline for students accused in these incidents. “The goal is to end the behavior, so really it’s a two-part process. One is of course, the consequences for the behavior. But beyond that, it’s how do you restore the sense of being part of the community and how whatever happened violated those core values that we have,” said Galdston.

Galdston said the district’s existing “Equity Leaders Team,” and “Anti-bias Coalition” is looking to modifying the ELA curriculum and creating a district review board to include students and members of the community to better respond and educate about bullying and race-based harassment. The district is also working to intensify their professional development and they’re conducting a full review of school policies.

“Many organizations try to hide these events and not use them as an opportunity to bring about change and urgency,” Galdston said.

Claudia Rinaldi is chairperson of the education department at Lasell University, which is conducting the policy review.

“I do believe engaging the students in discussion in an ongoing basis, even though it’s hard for faculty, particularly when 90 percent of our teachers are white in our schools; it is important to see how we can keep the conversation going,” Rinaldi said.

In response to concerns brought by parents after our reporting, Galdston is holding a virtual forum on Thursday for parents to voice their concerns.

Watertown student claims she's been racially harassed and school officials aren't addressing it

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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