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SOUTHWICK — Six eighth graders face criminal charges, an elected official asked a School Committee member to resign, the town is looking at writing a formal DEI policy and administrators uncovered racist graffiti as Southwick Regional School continues to reel from racial incidents in February.

Hampden County District Attorney Anthony Gulluni announced March 14 that six teens who attend Southwick Regional School are being charged with crimes for their roles in a mock “slave auction” conducted late on Feb. 8 and into the morning of Feb. 9 on the social media app Snapchat, in which fellow SRS students were treated as chattel.

The alleged criminals are aged 13-14. Gulluni said because they are all minors, he cannot identify them or provide additional details, including their races. All six are charged with threatening to commit a crime. Two are additionally charged with felony interference with civil rights, and one of those faces a third charge, witness interference.

Anthony Gulluni, right, announces that charges are being filed against six eighth graders attending Southwick Regional School for a racist incident that included holding a mock slave auction that included two Black students. At left is Antonio Simmons, from the district attorney’s Office of Community Safety and Outreach.
Reminder Publishing photo by Cliff Clark

Gulluni said if any of the students are found to be “delinquent” during the adjudication process, they could be committed to the Department of Youth Services. The students could also be sentenced to probation.

According to Gulluni, when school administrators learned of the auction on Feb. 9, they alerted the Southwick Police Department and Gulluni’s office, and began an internal investigation that was completed Feb. 16. Citing privacy concerns, the Southwick-Tolland-Granville Regional School District didn’t publicly announce if any students had been disciplined once the investigation was completed.

However, Gulluni said that on Feb. 12, “after a review by school personnel,” several students, including those charged, were immediately suspended as an “emergency removal” from SRS. Gulluni added that once the school district completed its investigation, several students were suspended, including two for 25 days and one for 45 days.

Allyson Lopez, the mother of one of the victims, applauded Gulluni’s decision to prosecute the six students, and said she continued to be dissatisfied with the schools’ response. Lopez also said her daughter had been called the N-word by students at school.

She said the problem is deeper than one or two incidents: “It is evident that they have failed miserably in the past to adequately address and confront these issues, allowing them to fester and culminate in the abhorrent behavior we have witnessed,” Lopez said.

Resignation request

Select Board member Jason Perron sent a letter to School Superintendent Jennifer Willard and School Committee Chair Robert Stevenson asking for the School Committee to ask committee member Desiree Melloni to resign if her child was involved in the mock slave auction. Perron said he was writing as a Southwick resident, not as a town official.

During the committee meeting March 5 — its first meeting since the February incident was reported publicly — a parent of two students in the district said she knew that one of the School Committee members at the meeting had a child who was involved in the incident. Members of the audience asked the speaker to point out who it was. She didn’t.

On March 14, Greater Springfield NAACP President Talbert Swan II named Melloni as the official whose child was “one of the students involved” in the racial incident.

When Stevenson was asked the next day if that was true, he said no.

“Her son was not one of those charged by the district attorney. Based on that information, I’m not looking for anyone to resign,” he said.

Reminder Publishing sent an email to Melloni asking if she wanted to address the comments by Swan and Perron, and if she was considering stepping down. She did not reply by press time. Melloni was appointed to the School Committee in August 2022 to fill a mid-term vacancy. Her current term runs until the town election in May 2025.

DEI initiative

The Southwick Select Board on March 11 agreed to have Perron draft a comprehensive diversity, equity and inclusion initiative policy for the town.

“This is too important. We need to come up with some type of plan. I don’t want to see these problems come up again,” Perron said.

Select Board member Diane Gale asked if it would instead make more sense to work with the school district’s anti-bullying efforts in response to the February incidents. Perron said he wanted the town government to lead its own community action.

“The school has stuck their head in the sand for too long,” Perron said. “I don’t feel it’s their lead at all. … It’s a town issue.”

Perron will write a draft policy and bring it back to the full Select Board, which will then debate how to proceed.

Graffiti found

On March 14, Willard let SRS parents and guardians know that another racial incident had occurred.

“I am completely disheartened that I must so quickly address an issue of racism in our community,” Willard said in the email. “The district was made aware of racist language written on a bathroom wall.”

Willard was not available by press time to give further details on what was found. She wrote in the email to parents that the incident is under investigation and the police have been notified.

Stevenson confirmed that the matter was being investigated and taken seriously.

“This behavior will not be tolerated, and we will do what we can to determine what happened and take action, accordingly,” Stevenson said on March 15.

cclark@thereminder.com | + posts