In the first issue of Veritas of the school year, released in print and online on October 12th, the article “Hate speech at NHS not reported due to ‘fear’; Administration urges students to come forward”, written by the paper’s editor-in-chief, Sarah Swenson, drew attention to some major issues in the Nantucket High School (NHS). Namely, a pattern of hate speech, graffiti, and reluctance among the student body to report the aforementioned acts for fear of an inadequate response. The article, which quoted many anonymous students, also quoted Principal Mandy Vasil and Vice Principal Jennifer Psaradelis, who implored students to come forward if they saw or heard anything that was offensive, mean, or otherwise made them feel unsafe, and assured students that their reports would be taken seriously and responded to fully.
Two days later, in a weekly update to parents, guardians, and students at the NHS, Vasil and Psaradelis linked a newsletter in which they addressed the article. This address reiterated their words quoted in the article, acknowledging the issue, promising to do their best to fix it, and asking students to report anything that came to their notice:
“we are encouraging students, parents, and guardians to report incidents of hate speech, harassment, hazing, or bullying to the administration. This behavior will not be tolerated at Nantucket High School or within the Nantucket Public Schools. We recognize that acts of hate speech, harassment, hazing, and bullying have been an ongoing issue. It is our administrative goal not only to strive to stop acts of this nature but also to educate staff, students, and parents to inform them of the damaging effects such behavior has to our school community.”
They went on to explain the school’s protocol for handling reports of “hate speech, harassment, hazing, or bullying”; emphasizing the expeditiousness, thoroughness, and confidentiality of their response.
Besides this response, the school has also begun to take steps to work with students and staff at the high school to educate them about the effects of bigotry, specifically homophobia, which was highlighted in the article, and how to be an advocate against this behavior in everyday life. A district-wide Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Team consisting of teachers from every school in the district, as well as two teachers’ assistants, has been formed to help spearhead change throughout the district.
Vasil explained that she has also reached out to experts, from organizations such as The Safe Schools Program and PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) that work to promote safe learning environments for LGBTQ+ youth, who are both educated in how to deal with issues such as hate speech and bullying at school and, some of them, a part of the community themselves. She believes they are competent and truly good people. She hopes to bring some of these people to the high school to meet with groups of students, including the staff of Veritas, members of the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), and Captain’s Council made up of captains of the sports teams, as well as teachers.
These meetings would be educational trainings, teaching the recipients how to identify and counteract bigotry, how to create a safe environment for others, and how to stand up to the perpetrators of such hate. These techniques, she explained, could be used in the classroom, on the field, or even outside of the high school. She feels that a whole school assembly would not have as potent an effect, because students may feel forced to attend, and may not pay attention, but she believes that by reaching student leaders and staff, the lessons learned in these meetings will ripple out and have a positive effect on the community as a whole. There is currently no date set for the start of this project or the trainings, but Vasil is hopeful that they will instill change in the culture of the school.