📷 Two signs at the protest site read “Educate your kids on the issue of racism and bullying. Transferred to Quaboag, Racially targeted again at Saturday’s game by several Tantasqua students.”
Biracial student allegedly called “monkey” by classmates
By Sarah Champagne
Citizen Chronicle Managing Editor
Update Oct. 18, 2018: Erin Nosek, Ed.D has provided The Citizen Chronicle with the following statement:
“Sunday morning the High School Principal and I were made aware of a complaint by a parent from another school, regarding an alleged incident that occurred at a soccer game on Saturday. We are currently conducting an investigation. As part of the investigation, we met with the parent on Sunday morning, and are taking the necessary next steps to continue the investigation. Tantasqua does not tolerate bullying or discrimination in any form. As this ongoing investigation involves personnel and students, we are unable to comment any further.”
STURBRIDGE — In recent years, the use of at-home DNA tests through Ancestry.com or other services for genealogical purposes has become increasingly popular. By some accounts, the number of people using this type of service doubled between mid-2016 and 2017. You or someone you know has probably used one of these services to find out more about “where you came from.” But what if you were to proudly share with others what you learned about your heritage, only to find yourself subject to newfound harassment and discrimination as a result of your uncovered ethnicity?
That is the situation that Mark Huard of Warren alleges his son, Dominic, experienced on a long-term basis as a student at Tantasqua Regional High School, without appropriate support or attempts at resolution by district leadership. Dominic had been a Tantasqua student since seventh grade. Before that, he attended an elementary school in Warren. Huard says that his son played soccer at the junior high school level, and occasionally experienced some teasing and minor bullying that the family assumed was “simple kid stuff” normal to that age.
Around this time, Dominic’s mother, Laura, completed one of those popular DNA kits to understand her heritage. Although she always knew that she was “biracial of some sort,” she was uncertain of her exact ancestry. She would confirm through this test that she had 50 percent European ancestry and 50 percent African ancestry. She shared this with her sons, and Dominic was proud to learn this about his background. He and his older brother are both the children of Mark and Laura, but Dominic’s older brother has a darker complexion while Dominic has a lighter complexion.
Dominic shared his newfound knowledge of his ancestral ethnicity with his peers, and according to Huard, that is when the teasing escalated to racist bullying that began to impact Dominic’s mental health. Dominic hid the experience from his parents and they did not notice that anything was wrong until the normally good student brought home failing grades on his report card, three months into his freshman year at Tantasqua Senior High School. With the revelation that Dominic had African ancestry, other students had begun to call him “monkey” on an ongoing basis, the Huards allege.
Mark says that at one point, Dominic found the courage to confide in a teacher that the other kids were calling him “monkey.” Allegedly, the teacher stood at the front of the classroom and said, “Whoever is calling Dominic a monkey, they need to stop.” Mark says that the harassment then escalated even more.
By Dominic’s sophomore year, he was on the varsity soccer team at Tantasqua and had improved his grades, but the harassment and bullying continued, with peers and even teammates continuing to call him “monkey.” Mark says that Dominic began to become more withdrawn, heading straight to his room after school and even refusing to eat.
“Something was wrong, you could see it in his poor face,” Mark reported.
Around that time, Dominic attended an “SOS” assembly at school, which presented the topic of suicide prevention. Dominic filled out a questionnaire on mental health, which caused him to be “red-flagged” as a suicide risk, the family says. Mark alleges no resources or follow-up were made available after the school’s guidance department provided the Huards with the information.
This is when Mark and Laura say they approached a vice principal to talk about the problem, including the racist label of “monkey” that other students used for Dominic and the impact on Dominic’s mental health. The family alleges the vice principal responded that because Tantasqua is a predominantly white school, they did not know how to handle issues of race and racism.
An effort by The Citizen Chronicle to obtain comment from administration at Tantasqua Regional High School was unsuccessful prior to publication of this article.
After a particularly difficult day when Dominic came off of the school bus in tears, he asked his parents if he could transfer to Quaboag Regional High School in Warren. They agreed it would be a good idea, and Dominic switched schools mid-year. That was February of this year. Mark says that Dominic has had a far better experience at Quaboag, finding acceptance and a healthy learning environment.
That improvement was interrupted Saturday, Oct. 20, when Dominic played in a varsity soccer game for his new school against Tantasqua. Mark says that at that game, Dominic’s former teammates continued the harassment by greeting him with “Hey, monkey,” and referring to him by the slur throughout the game. At one point, Mark says that Dominic bent down to get his equipment and a Tantasqua student pushed him down to the ground and called him “monkey” again. To top it off, Mark says that at the end of the game, instead of the usual “good game” and high-fives, players from Tantasqua refused to say “good game” and instead said “monk” or “monkey” to Dominic in the lineup.
That was the final straw for the determined father, who says he could not stand to see how the bullying impacted his son any longer. He decided the night after the game to be more vocal about his son’s experience with racism by protesting at the entrance of Tantasqua Regional High School.
Mark contacted the Sturbridge Police Department to find out what was allowed for public protests and to coordinate his efforts with law enforcement. A police officer met Mark at the site where his signs are now set up and provided Mark with guidance on the legal aspects of such activity.
“Every police and fire department should try to be like these guys,” Mark says. “They have been phenomenal in this process. They are high-class gentlemen and are true professionals,” he remarks of Police guidance for the protest.
Even as the signs were being set up and the protest began, at 7 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 21, the effort quickly dew attention.
“Within 15 minutes, principal [Michael] Lucas was here to talk to us. He was in his pajamas and slippers and the told my wife she shouldn’t be here,” Mark claims. Mark says Lucas tried to convince Laura that because there was nothing going on at the school on Sunday, they wouldn’t get any attention anyway and indicated they either had to or should leave.
Mark says that he was offered a meeting with Dr. Erin Nosek, the superintendent of Tantasqua schools, in her office that day, but that the meeting was not productive. He alleges that the superintendent said she had left her own mother, who was blind and in the care of two minorities, to come to the meeting. Mark said Nosek pledged to follow up with him on Monday, but that call or visit never came.
The Tantasqua Superintendent’s Office did not return a request for comment from The Citizen Chronicle.
As far as the length or endpoint of the protest, Mark said he does not plan to give up any time soon.
“I’m here and I’m not moving until changes happen,” he said.
He plans to be at the same spot every day from “as early as I can get here” to “as late as I can stay.”
Charges of hate crimes and assault have been filed against several Tantasqua students, and for that reason, the Sturbridge Police Department cannot provide any comment.
“This is an open and active investigation. Other than that, I cannot comment,” Sturbridge Police Sgt. Sean Paine told The Citizen Chronicle.