AG says Danvers school district, police mishandled reports of racist, homophobic hazing rituals

The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office has found that school and police departments in Danvers have mishandled reports of racist, homophobic and violent bullying rituals that took place in the boys’ varsity locker room for years. In November 2021, the AG’s office launched an investigation into allegations of bullying related to incidents that reportedly took place in 2019 and 2020. In an interview with 5 Investigates, a Danvers High School hockey player revealed that the boys’ team was violent in their locker room , degrading, racist and homophobic bullying rituals. The player said the alleged assaults and other rituals of bullying showed the abuse of young players by upper-class “R Fridays,” where players who refused to say the n-word with a hard “R” were physically hit, sometimes with a pink one Sex toys and it persisted because college coach Steve Baldassare, a Danvers police sergeant, failed to properly supervise the team and the locker room, and include involvement in the Danvers School Resource Officer program, which he had overseen by an outside company. The AG clarified that the outside investigator found misconduct on the hockey team that was “significantly more serious” than what was reported by the school district and police. “Racism, homophobia and bigotry of any kind have no place in our locker rooms, ice rinks or playing fields – we must provide a safe and supportive environment in which our students can grow and learn,” said Healey. “With today’s resolution, the Danvers Public School District is committed to making necessary changes to improve the culture in its schools and athletic programs, protect student rights, and ensure incidents of hate and bias are never overlooked again.” Danvers Public Schools released the terms of its Resolution agreement with the Attorney General’s Office on Monday.As part of the agreement to resolve the case with no findings of fact or law, the school district has agreed to take the following steps by the end of the 2023-24 school year.Danvers Public Schools will become their existing civil rights guidelines etc nd procedures review and make any necessary changes. The district will then submit its policy to the Attorney General for approval prior to implementation. DPS will provide administrators, teachers, trainers and staff with sufficient training and support to effectively implement the policies approved by the AG Office. DPS will provide all students with programming to develop the skills, knowledge and strategies needed to prevent and respond to bullying, harassment and biased misconduct, with additional training specific to student athletes. DPS notifies the AG office of incidents of prejudice involving Danvers High School students, confirms that the district is investigating, and sends the AG office any requested updates. “We thank AGO for writing in acknowledgment of the important steps DPS has already taken in response to these incidents, which is work on which we have been actively focused since these allegations arose,” Acting Co-Superintendent Keit h Taverna and Mary Wermers said in a statement, “We understand the seriousness and complexity of these issues and are committed to doing better. We know that words must be followed by deeds.” .Lisa Dana, who took a medical leave of absence in December 2021, decided to retire on August 31 while remaining on a medical leave.Baldassare was initially put on leave from his coaching job in January 2021, but the next month Eventually, he resigned as boys’ ice hockey coach in July 2021, but continued to work as a resource officer of Danvers High School and as supervisor of all resource officers of Danvers Public Schools. He and the hockey assistant coaches denied any knowledge of wrongdoing to investigators. Baldassare did not respond to a call from 5 inquiries regarding his report. Danvers Police Chief James Lovell said last month that Baldassare’s new role within the Danvers Police Department has not yet been decided.

The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office has found that school and police departments in Danvers have mishandled reports of racist, homophobic and violent bullying rituals that took place in the boys’ varsity hockey locker room for years.

By releasing a letter Monday, the AG’s office agreed to settle its civil rights investigation into Danvers Public Schools and the school district’s handling of the bullying scandal.

In November 2021, the AG office launched an investigation into allegations of harassment related to incidents reported to have taken place in 2019 and 2020.

Earlier, in an interview with 5 Investigates, a Danvers High School hockey player revealed that the boys’ team had held violent, degrading, racist and homophobic bullying rituals in his locker room. The player said the alleged attacks and other harassment rituals showed abuse of young players by upper class people.

The player said the rituals included “Gay Tuesday,” when the lights in the dressing room were turned off and everyone had to remove their clothes, and “Hard-R Fridays,” where players refused to say the N-word with a hard to say. R” were physically beaten, sometimes with a pink sex toy.

The AG’s office found that there had been several years of misconduct before it was approached by the Danvers School District, and it persisted because varsity coach Steve Baldassare, a Danvers police sergeant, did not approve of the team and locker room properly monitored.

The AG’s office said it was pleased that, in accordance with its recommendations, Baldassare was assigned responsibilities that no longer involve involvement in the Danvers School Resource Officer program, which he had overseen.

There were three separate investigations into the harassment allegations — by the police, the school district and an outside company. The AG clarified that the outside investigator found misconduct by the hockey team that was “significantly more serious” than what was reported by the school district and police.

“Racism, homophobia and bigotry of any kind have no place in our locker rooms, rinks or playing fields – we must provide a safe and supportive environment in which our students can grow and learn,” Healey said. “With today’s resolution, Danvers Public School District has committed to making the necessary changes to improve the culture in its schools and athletic programs, protect student rights, and ensure incidents of hate and bias are never overlooked again. “

Danvers Public Schools released the terms of its termination agreement with the attorney general’s office on Monday. As part of the agreement to resolve the case without a finding of fact or law, the school district has agreed to take the following steps by the end of the 2023-24 school year.

  • Danvers Public Schools will review its existing civil rights policies and procedures and make any necessary changes. The district will then submit its policy to the Attorney General’s Office for approval prior to implementation.
  • DPS provides administrators, teachers, trainers and staff with sufficient training and support to effectively implement the policies approved by the AG’s office.
  • DPS will provide programs to all students to develop the skills, knowledge and strategies needed to prevent and respond to bullying, harassment and biased misconduct, with additional training specifically for student athletes.
  • DPS notifies the AG office of all incidents of prejudice involving Danvers High School students, confirms that the district is investigating, and sends the AG office any updates it requests.

“We thank AGO for their letter acknowledging the important steps DPS has already taken in response to these incidents. Superintendents Keith Taverna and Mary Wermers said in a statement. “We understand the seriousness and complexity of these issues and are committed to doing better. We know that words must be followed by deeds.”

The decision, with no findings of fact or law, comes after Danvers Superintendent Dr. Lisa Dana, who took a medical leave in December 2021, decided to retire on August 31 while she remains on a medical leave.

Baldassare was initially placed on leave from his coaching job in January 2021 but was reinstated the next month. Eventually, he resigned as a boys’ ice hockey coach in July 2021, but continued to serve as the Danvers High School resource officer and as the supervisor of all Danvers Public Schools resource officers.

He and the hockey assistant coaches denied any knowledge of wrongdoing to investigators. Baldassare did not respond to a call from 5 inquiries regarding his report.

Danvers Police Chief James Lovell said last month that Baldassare’s new role within the Danvers Police Department has not yet been decided.

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