Investigation into racial taunts complete

School officials say complaints couldn’t be substantiated

NAUGATUCK — An investigation concluded Tuesday did not substantiate complaints that Region 16 participants used racial taunts against Naugatuck players during a basketball game at a Prospect school last week.

But investigators did find overly aggressive and inappropriate behavior between adult spectators on both sides, and between players on the court of Long River Middle School in Prospect, said Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin.

“As adults at these games we need to do some reflection on how we conduct ourselves verbally, in our tone and our mannerisms,” Yamin said.

Yamin said parents, students, coaches and referees were interviewed.

While the allegations of racial taunts were not substantiated, Yamin said the school will use this as a “teachable moment,” bringing together players from both sides for a guided discussion next week. He said Region 16, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, will also review its diversity and social tolerance lessons.

In social media posts and media interviews, parents from Naugatuck’s City Hill Middle School complained that their children’s team was subjected to racial taunts during a basketball game at Long River last Thursday.

Jason Garcia, an electrician whose 13-year-old son plays on the City Hill team, said Tuesday he heard the N-word coming from the Region 16 side of the game. Whether it was coming from players or spectators, he could not tell. He said he was bothered by abrasive and derogatory comments from the Prospect coach as well.

Yamin, however, denied the coach used such language. Rather, Yamin said, the Prospect coach said something about sportsmanship in defeat.

Dewygee Williams of Naugatuck said last week her 14-year-old son was called the N-word by Region 16 players. She said she heard some Region 16 players and parents using the racial slur as Naugatuck students made their way to the locker room.

Garcia said he was pleased with Naugatuck’s handling of the aftermath. Naugatuck Superintendent of Schools Sharon Locke, coaches and guidance counselors met with students to offer counseling, he said.

Locke issued a statement Tuesday that did not speak to the allegations or what indeed was found to have occurred. Attempts to reach Locke were unsuccessful.

The release states that young people need to respect diversity, and students should trust their concerns about “hurtful incidents” will be treated seriously.

“In Naugatuck Public Schools, we have no tolerance for racial comments directed to anyone,” Locke stated.

Lock’s statement said City Hill Principal Eileen Mezzo, an athletic director and coach will “provide opportunities” for the team to learn from this experience.

“The Naugatuck and Prospect athletic directors, coaches and principals have also been collaborating to work on building a healthy relationship between our teams and our school communities,” Locke’s statement reads.

Yamin also said his staff will reinforce behavioral expectations with parents attending sporting events. Additionally, Yamin said, Long River Principal Derek Muharem will monitor home games for the remainder of the season.

“I am confident that the school climate, culture and community will take these incidents as teachable situations,” Yamin wrote.

The following are statements from Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin and Naugatuck Superintendent of Schools:

Michael Yamin: “An unacceptable incident was reported to have occurred at a Long River Middle School sporting event and a full investigation was conducted. We have not been able to substantiate that racial slurs have occurred. Our schools in Region 16 stand for respect and inclusion.  We recognize that hateful remarks and acts at schools are dangerous, disturbing and disruptive. Everyone involved in our schools recognizes that disrespect and intimidation has no place in our community and it will not be tolerated.

Long River Middle School’s Administration in collaboration with Region 16 District Office launched an investigation after accusations were made about players making racial slurs during the basketball game, and parents in the bleachers engaging in inappropriate verbal altercations.  Region 16 interviewed staff, parents, players, coaches, met with City Hill Middle School staff and probed into posts on social media.  We have completed our investigation.  It is conclusive that as adults, we need to evaluate our conduct and reflect upon the influence our behavior, tone, and mannerisms have on our children and the community as well. We recognize that our players need to know that reports of these incidents will be taken seriously and fully investigated.

It is critical to remember that we are a teaching institution and capable of raising awareness and increasing understanding around the issues raised through this incident.  We will take the following positive steps in using this as a learning experience to teach tolerance, respect, and inclusion, rather than to take punitive measures that will not offer any opportunity for learning or personal growth.

Our middle school team will be gathering with the team from City Hill Middle School from Naugatuck next Wednesday to engage in dialogue with counselors and administrators to support all students.  Moving forward we will also look further into our present advisory program and guidance lessons that teach diversity and tolerance. We will seek to potentially capture content that is directly related to these types of incidents and real concerns that are raised through the inappropriate use of social media. I am confident that the school climate, culture, and community will take these incidents as teachable situations.”

Sharon Locke: “I think it is important to address the report of the racial slurs being used during the Middle School basketball game. This incident is an opportunity to help our young people develop into citizens who honor diversity and treat one another with dignity and respect. Our students need to know and trust that when they tell adults about hurtful incidents, we will take them seriously and investigate and take appropriate action. In Naugatuck Public Schools, we have no tolerance for racial comments directed to anyone. Our primary concern is the wellbeing of our students. Our Principal, Athletic Director and Coach have been meeting with and providing opportunities for our team to learn from and through this experience.

The Naugatuck and Prospect athletic directors, coaches and principals have also been collaborating to work on building a healthy relationship between our teams and our school communities.”