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Hampden DA’s office will investigate allegations of racist acts at Southwick Regional School

The icon for instant messaging app Snapchat is seen on a smartphone.
Matt Slocum
/
AP
The icon for instant messaging app Snapchat is seen on a smartphone.

Jennifer Willard, the superintendent of the Southwick-Tolland-Granville regional school district, said they've concluded an investigation into what she called a “highly inappropriate and racist" conversation involving Southwick Regional School students on Snapchat.

Allyson Lopez, the mother of one of the victims, said her daughter was not approached by school officials to hear her side of the story and has not been back to school since the incident took place Feb. 9.

Lopez describes the situation as a mock online slave bidding denigrating students of color. She said her daughter is struggling.

"She's going to wonder if the friends she does have are true because of one, two, three, ten people's actions,” Lopez said. “How could she handle that? Is she able to handle that? Does she now have to look at everybody differently? I'm hoping not."

The high school student population is 89% white, according to state data.

Bishop Talbert Swan II, the president of Springfield’s NAACP chapter, said it’s unacceptable that these racist acts are continuing in 2024.

“People keep telling me that racism is dying with the younger generation. The younger folks have a different attitude about race. Then, you have situations like this where you have 13, 14, 15, 16-year-old kids holding a slave auction or calling people the ‘n word’ and harassing folks,” Swan said. “These racist attitudes are fermented in these young people through their environment, through their parents, through their teaching, through what they're exposed to. No 13-year-old just starts calling people the ‘n word.’ They learn that somewhere.”

A spokesperson for the Hampden District Attorney’s Office said they're now investigating the matter and will "prosecute any criminal violations vigorously."

Superintendent Willard sent a statement Thursday saying the school will organize a special assembly for students upon their return to school from break for "open dialogue, support, and guidance on navigating challenging situations both inside and outside of school."

After meeting with the district on Thursday, Lope issued a statement saying she feels "profoundly disillusioned" and said there is a "serious lack of understanding and commitment among the administrative leadership to ensure the safety and well-being of all students because of their race and or ethnicity."

She said she feels compelled to "explore alternative avenues to seek justice and ensure accountability for those responsible," but did not elaborate on what those avenues might be.

Nirvani Williams covers socioeconomic disparities for New England Public Media, joining the news team in June 2021 through Report for America.