Racist social media post 'never existed,' Westport schools chief says

Staples High School on Wednesday July 25, 2018 in Westport Conn.

Staples High School on Wednesday July 25, 2018 in Westport Conn.

Alex von Kleydorff / Hearst Connecticut Media

WESTPORT — An investigation by the school district has found no evidence of a racist social media post that prompted a Staples High senior to write a letter outlining the challenges faced by minority students.

“After a careful investigation by the high school administration, the evidence indicated that, with respect to this issue in question, there was no post,” Interim Superintendent David Abbey told the Board of Education last week. “As such, no student or group of students should be implicated in any way for posting something that never existed.”

Last month, Staples High senior Niah Michel, who is black, said statements allegedly made on social media by a white classmate spurred her to submit the letter to the editor published on WestportNow, detailing situations she felt showed an apparent disregard for black and Latino students from their peers and the school’s staff.

Michel said she has since had several meetings with Staples Principal Stafford Thomas.

“They were mostly about what the next steps are going to be,” she said, regarding the concerns she detailed in the letter.

Abbey and Thomas declined to comment on what the investigation into the social media post entailed. According to Michel, she heard about the post through friends, but did not see it herself or know if anyone had taken a screenshot. The post was allegedly made on the Snapchat app, which automatically deletes photos and videos after 24 hours.

Thomas notified parents in an email last week that the school’s investigation found the post never existed.

“Therefore, it is essential that no student be singled out or have to bear the burden for something that never occurred,” Thomas wrote in the email. “Going forward, we will continue to work toward the goal of making Staples a school where every student feels valued and included.”

Abbey noted it’s important to exercise care when resolving problems because children are involved.

“We’re still talking about people who need our support whenever they put themselves on the line, and wherever they do it, and whether they make mistakes or don’t make mistakes,” Abbey said. “I’d ask that as we go forward all of us when issues come up resist the impulse to pounce, resist the impulse to judge, and resist the impulse to blame until we have a good sense of what occurred.”

Abbey emphasized that Staples has initiated activities to build bridges between students, including the high school’s faculty and administration training with the Anti-Defamation League this year and the school’s collaboration with TEAM Westport.

On March 16, Staples will begin celebrating diversity month — a four-week initiative that will honor women in the first week, black history and ethnic groups in the second, religious inclusion in the third, and the LGBTQ community in the final week.

The district is also among eight in the state participating in the pilot program, “Creating a District Plan to Increase the Racial, Ethnic and Linguistic Diversity of Your Educator Workforce.”

“This work will not only assist us with the recruitment of a diverse workforce, but with the retention process as well,” Abbey said.

“We’ve always been an inclusive community, and we always will be an inclusive school district.”