Enosburg Falls, VT — School officials at Enosburg Falls High School are still investigating a situation where racist and homophobic remarks were directed at a Middlebury Union High School athlete last week. Following the incident, Enosburg Falls principal Joseph Donarum was placed on paid leave for saying such language over the intercom.
In an attempt to address extremely poor behavior at a girls’ basketball game, principal Donarum tried teaching students what is not acceptable to say, fully pronouncing words like the R-word and the N-word over the intercom.
“He knows it wasn’t a good decision, but certainly his heart was in a good place. He was trying to show students that nobody should feel marginalized or excluded and when you use words like this that’s what you’re doing,” said Jay Nichols, the Executive Director of the Vermont Principals’ Association.
Nichols says that while he understands Donarum was trying to prove a point, it’s common practice to place staff on paid leave to ensure a smooth transition. “We’re going to be looking at intent and context, which matter. Those two things really matter. When someone is saying it as a teaching tool, again, not a good choice, they should not have gone down that route, but that is a lot different than someone saying these words because they’re trying to demean somebody.”
Following the incident, Lynn Cota, superintendent of the Franklin Northeast Supervisory Union released the following statement: “Because this is a personnel matter, I won’t be commenting. Your question about student training will be addressed soon. This is the second time in five months that Enosburg Falls High School has been in the spotlight for offensive language at sporting events — so I asked what’s being done to educate students.”
According to Nichols, racist comments made during a soccer game in September were made by adults in the stands but he says it’s unclear whether last week’s remarks against a Middlebury Union High School athlete came from a student or young adult.
Samantha Brace, a mother of a student who attends Enosburg Falls High School said she heard the announcement first hand and doesn’t agree with the investigation. “I don’t think he should be on leave. I think he was just trying to get his point across because nothing else was working. He’s just trying to explain to these kids that we shouldn’t be doing this.”
Another student and grandparent have a different perspective and say that using those words over the intercom were “unnecessary” and “embarrassing”.
The district’s Diversity Response Coordinator says the school is working on providing education to students and will have more to say on that in the coming days. In the meantime, Nichols says if you see questionable behavior at a sporting event, speak up and address it.