Editor’s Note: We are working to get more perspectives on this story. Please see more in next week’s Valley Press. If anyone would like to speak on the incident, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, I’d especially love to talk to people who attended the game.
By John Fitts
CANTON — Following alleged chants of “Trump, Trump, Trump” by some Canton students to an opposing team during a Tuesday evening basketball game, school officials have gone on record saying the behavior was perceived “divisive” and “disrespectful.”
The incident came during a boys game against Hartford-based Classical Magnet School when approximately 7 to 8 Canton students yelled “Trump, Trump, Trump” while the opponents were on the free-throw line, said Superintendent Kevin D. Case. On Thursday, Case said the tone of the chants was at issue, more than the exact words.
Two school administrators curtailed the activity at the game but Case acknowledged that some of the kids continued it after the game.
Some in the community are contending the students chose a patriotic theme for costume night and were reacting to an anti-Trump atmosphere in the schools. Others feel the chant clearly had racist overtones.
Following the incident that night, community members from both teams expressed their disappointment and the students were spoken to, Case said. Additionally, administrators met with the entire student body on Wednesday.
In a letter to parents, principal Andrew F. DiPippo said “many people perceived these comments to be divisive in the context of an athletic event.”
“While students’ right to free speech and forming educated opinions about politics and current events is a cornerstone of our education system, the exact point where political opinion converges with disrespect, discrimination, or hate speech must be separated,” he, in part, wrote. “We have a reputation as a welcoming community, and these students crossed this line with their comments and have damaged our reputation. As principal, I am disheartened that our message of community has not resonated with all students.”
Later in the letter, however, DiPippo stated he does not believe the event represents the “overall belief and values of our school community.”
“My hope in reaching out to inform families is to begin to build a broader conversation at home regarding this complex issue with your student. I was all students to feel safe and their opinions to be valued in an environment of respect. In support of this belief, please know that in school and at school events, these types of behaviors will not be allowed, and they will result in appropriate school action.”
Case said that last year the school hosted a “Truth about hate” program forum and would continue to talk about respect.
Articles on the incident have been the subject of much debate on social media, with some expressing horror at it and others saying it’s being blown out of proportion. Some have also suggested that it was done in the context of supporting Trump and a patriotic theme at the game.
Canton resident David Hudon, 1977 CHS graduate wasn’t at the game but see this not as “calling kids out for ‘unsportsmanlike conduct,” but rather one of political censorship.
“If chanting ‘miss it, miss it, miss it’ during free throws, or chanting ‘hey batter, hey batter’ at baseball games were deemed unsportsmanlike, the coach would talk to his or her players before or after the game. It would be over,” he said, reiterating a post he had made on social media. “Repeat offenders may sit out a game. That’s not what this is about. If it were, the head administrator of a school would never call all students into the auditorium to ‘discuss’ this ‘disgraceful act.’ This is about using this president’s name and that is partisan political censorship and there is absolutely no room for that in our schools
Case said that the comments did not seem to be a simple political expression, or at the very least, were not seen that way.
“The perception is that it’s divisive,” he said. “In the context of the event, it was very inappropriate.”
Case said there will be a formal apology to Classical Magnet School.
Pedro Zayas, Director of Communications and Marketing for Hartford Public Schools, said he expects further communication between Case and acting Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez.
Torres-Rodriguez was out of town but stated the following in a submitted statement, “This is an unfortunate incident that Hartford Public Schools will address urgently. We want all our students and their families to know that this is unacceptable conduct. HPS will take every step necessary to ensure that our students and families are protected from physical harm and emotional harassment. It’s sad that this would happen in an athletics setting. Schools are supposed to compete in good faith partnerships with the ultimate goal of supporting student growth. I look forward to speaking with Canton Public Schools District leadership to have a conversation on moving ahead, what we can learn, and how to prevent these kinds of situations from being repeated in the future.”
On Thursday, the Canton Board of Education also released a statement expressing disappointment in the incident, calling the behavior counter to its values.
The statement continued, The Board of Education supports the administration in its ongoing investigation of the events and has confidence it will work with the families in determining the appropriate action that should be taken. We will work with the administration to ensure that a plan is put in place to deal with all the issues highlighted by this unfortunate event, including but not limited to, diversity. As a district that accepts Open Choice students, the school administration has worked hard over the last year to create an inclusive environment through its work with the Anti-Defamation League. They and other outside organizations will be working with our school community to continue to create an inclusive environment.”
On Thursday, Case said there were police at the school following some “non-credible” threats toward Canton. Police will be at the school Friday as well, he added.