SIS principal says spitting incident not racially motivated

Exterior, Shelton Intermediate School, in Shelton, Conn. Aug. 9, 2016.

Exterior, Shelton Intermediate School, in Shelton, Conn. Aug. 9, 2016.

SHELTON —The white intermediate school student who, during the school’s trip to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., on Friday, spit on a black museum patron acted stupidly, but the incident was not racially motivated, the school’s principal said.

Shelton Intermediate School Principal Dina Marks, who is on the trip with her students, tweeted at 7:42 a.m. to clarify the incident, which led to the student group being removed from the Smithsonian and ultimately a social media firestorm after Superintendent of Schools Chris Clouet posted the details on Facebook.

“The incident at the African American Museum involved a student spitting over a balcony. It allegedly hit a visitor, a person of color,” Marks tweeted. “It was an act of stupidity, disinterest & immaturity, completely inappropriate, but I believe, not racially motivated against that person.”

Clouet said Saturday that he has been in contact with Marks multiple times in the past 24 hours. He added that there are more than 10 chaperones on the trip, saying “I am confident our students are safe.”

“Whether or not yesterday's incident at the Smithsonian African American Museum was ‘horse-play’ or involved overt bias is not clear. Far too often unkind acts in our world are excused because it was ‘only a joke,’” Clouet said in a statement to Hearst Connecticut Media on Saturday afternoon. “The individual who was spit on may not see it as a joke. I suspect it may have been more rude than racist. Not certain how the visitor to the museum on the receiving end of the act would perceive it.

“In any case, it was at minimum an unkind, immature act — cutting short the visit of the other SIS students to what is truly a spectacular museum that captures the oppression and pain African Americans have endured as well as the resilience and joy associated with the vibrant African American culture that is foundational to the United States of America.”

Clouet first informed the school community about this incident in a Facebook post about 7:30 p.m. Friday.

“This kind of action is not a reflection of who our students are, or who we are as a community,” Clouet said in the post. “This is not the time or place to talk about consequences. But this is now, regrettably, a pattern of behavior that is disrespectful and does not serve anyone well — including the student who acted inappropriately and embarrassed himself and his school.”

Naugatuck Valley NAACP President Greg Johnson reacted quickly, saying Shelton has a “major problem” and needs to institute a zero tolerance policy with regard to racism immediately.

“You have not been proactive with these situations,” Johnson said in his statement to the Shelton community, “but you react to the children of color who stand up to defend themselves immediately. This stops today, through cooperation or litigation, there will be accountability for the racist, vile environment that you all have allowed.”

Johnson said he was disgusted by the incident at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

“Not at the Lincoln or Washington monuments, but where African-Americans are celebrated,” said Johnson. “A total and complete lack of respect, and one of the most degrading acts one can commit against another.”

Clouet said school administrators will “deal with this at school.

“But we need the help and support of families,” said Clouet. “Please speak to your own children in an age-appropriate manner about our expectation of how we treat people — black or white, elder or young, or anyone, a child, or adult, may perceive as being different.

“Shelton schools and the Shelton community can do better. We must,” Clouet said.

This comes on the heels of a recent incident in which a photo was posted on Snapchat of a Shelton Intermediate School student in what appeared to be blackface with a racial slur in a tagline.

The girls responsible for the photo apologized — and their written apologies were displayed during a special assembly Sept. 13, at Shelton Intermediate School. Clouet said the assembly — which gathered the entire school population and featured a “well-crafted” PowerPoint presentation, during which a detailed history and meaning of blackface in the African American community was shown — was a “teachable moment.” Clouet said, while some know the students involved, others do not, so the girls were not identified during the assembly.

But Johnson said the school’s reaction was inadequate, and his organization held a Pack the Shelton Board of Education Rally & Meeting on Sept. 25, at the Shelton Board of Education offices, calling for steps to curb the racial divide in the city.

“Why are we here again?” asked Johnson. “Not two weeks ago I said if acts of disrespect and hate towards black students by white students are not addressed the hatred and disrespect will fester and grow worse at an NAACP rally at the very school whom harbor this hatred with no consequences. Guess what? This is pretty close to as bad as it gets.

“Who raises and nurtures children who are comfortable enough to go to a historic black landmark and be foul, disrespectful and oblivious of how hurtful and hateful their behavior is?” asked Johnson.

“Shelton is not especially racist or biased as a community. Nor is it free of such sentiments,” Clouet said in his statement Saturday afternoon. “We will continue to do our work of celebrating our diversity.

“Above all, we will teach. We will teach students about our complex national history. And we will teach students to recognize the core values of empathy, kindness and respect,” Clouet said.