NEWBURYPORT — The superintendent of schools said Monday he believes city officials hope to address the recent anti-Semitic incident at the high school possibly with new approaches to addressing negative behavior in the school community.
In an interview Monday, Superintendent Sean Gallagher weighed in on the discussions school and city leaders are having regarding the May 29 incident at Newburyport High School in which a junior said a student made the Nazi salute while standing near two Jewish students. The junior also said that during the Ivy Day ceremony, the student altered lyrics to “All Hail to Our Alma Mater,” the school’s official song, from “All hail to the glorious future” to “All hail to the glorious Fuhrer,” a reference to Adolf Hitler.
Following the ceremony, the junior said he reported the incidents to school officials, who he described as empathetic and responsive to his complaint. Since then, school officials have been meeting to address the incident and prevent future discrimination and bullying, although no public discussions have been scheduled.
Last week, Gallagher, Mayor Donna Holaday and other city leaders met privately with the Human Rights Commission to discuss how to move forward after the anti-Semitic incident and how to improve school culture.
Gallagher said school administrators have been meeting with the Human Rights Commission throughout the school year, and plan to continue to investigate the issue and how to address similar situations into the following school year.
“I think it’s really for us to bring all of the community members,” Gallagher said. “We really want to deal with a lot of these issues as a community, not only just the school, but really as a community. We have another meeting ... where we’re going to start putting more of the pieces together.”
The group plans to meet again on June 24, he said. Additionally, school and city leaders discussed the possibility of implementing a program used in Beverly Public Schools to work with students on the restorative justice process and discipline after an incident such as the one that occurred in Newburyport, the mayor said.
Gallagher said that with the program, “equity coordinators” are placed within school buildings to investigate any kind of discrimination, bullying and harassment, rather than solely having school administrators investigate the issue and follow up with student discipline.
“There’s always going to be school discipline which is what the administration does, but also the restorative justice on giving ... an opportunity to empower the victim, if they’re willing, to explain how it made them feel,” Gallagher said.
“Also, for people who are the perpetrators, (the program gives them) ways, when appropriate, to make amends and come back into the school community.”
Gallagher said the restorative justice approach, along with working with the Human Rights Commission, will allows school leaders to take a look at their district policies and procedures by “adding another layer of something like an equity coordinator in the building, because those investigations are separate for the administration.”
The superintendent said the program wouldn’t just focus on punishing a student for indecent behavior for three or four days, but would follow up with the student so a similar situation doesn’t happen again.
“That fits in better with a restorative justice approach,” Gallagher said. “There’s always the school discipline, but then it’s after that how do you follow up in a meaningful way where it’s actually taking a look at that approach. It’s really the follow up so it doesn’t happen again and it’s a learning experience for everybody.”
Staff writer Amanda Getchell covers Newburyport and Seabrook. Follow her on Twitter @ajgetch.