HAMILTON-WENHAM – School officials shut down the Hamilton-Wenham High School junior prom early on Saturday, April 28 when one or more students were heard yelling a racial slur while a DJ played music.
One or more students yelled the N-word while music was playing and students were dancing, according to a letter Superintendent of Schools Eric Tracy sent home to Hamilton-Wenham parents on Monday, May 2. According to Tracy, the racial slur was heard by a number of students and was upsetting to them.
Tracy stated the incident was being investigated by the school department.
High school principal Bryan Menegoni shut down the prom early and addressed the students about the incident, according to the letter from Tracy. Following the prom on Monday, members of the junior class met with the principal, class advisers and officers along with some teachers to discuss the incident.
Tracy also addressed the issue in his Superintendent’s update of May 6.
“This was a bit of a crazy week with lots of visits from local news channels,” Tracy stated. “We continue to work together to investigate the incident from the junior prom. Our student government and junior class officers are working with the HS administration and staff to determine the next steps including appropriate speakers and or workshop opportunities.”
The Class of 2023 officer also wrote a statement to the community from their perspective.
“What happened at prom affects all of us, regardless of whether or not you were at prom, whether or not you feel personally attacked by the use of the word, and whether or not you ever have said or even considered saying it,” the letter from the class officers and representatives stated. “When hate speech is used, it is up to all of us to right the wrongs of what happened, and look inwards to see how we – ourselves and our community – can do better.”
At the most recent regional school committee meeting on Thursday, May 5, the committee unanimously supported a joint Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging statement written by Hamilton-Wenham Education Association (HWEA) President Nicholas Ristaino, School Committee Chair Dana Allara, and Tracy.
“The statement serves to support our educators and students as we continue to work together to create and support safe and welcoming learning environments for everyone,” Tracy stated.
While the administration, school committee, and HWEA began working on the joint statement weeks before the incident at the junior prom, school committee member Anna Siedzik said its timing was fortuitous.
“I think the timing just couldn’t be more crucial in light of the events of (April 28) and the awareness that we as a community have work to do,” Siedzik said at the May 5 meeting. “I think that has been clear by the event itself, the sort of active, racist hate speech that occured at our prom, and also, the community’s response to it, which in some cases are to excuse it, or to deflect it, or to say that it’s really not that big of a deal.”