MELROSE — City officials acknowledge there is a lot of work to do after reports surfaced recently about possible racist acts in Melrose schools.

According to a release, Lawyers for Civil Rights filed a federal civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) against the Melrose Public School District and Melrose Veterans Memorial Middle School (MVMMS) “for their failure to prevent a racially hostile school environment, which led to a Black student leaving the district altogether.”

There was a demonstration outside City Hall this week demanding better treatment of METCO students as well. 

The release states, “The complaint was filed on behalf of David, a Black seventh grade student who was repeatedly called racial slurs and subjected to racial bias, which the school failed to investigate and act against.

“For his entire time at MVMMS, David experienced racial bullying without meaningful support or protection from Melrose administrators. The district is approximately 75% white, and David’s school is approximately 5.5% Black students. David was affiliated with the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO). Melrose accepts 117 students from METCO between kindergarten and 5th grade.”

The release from Lawyers for Civil Rights continues that several instances of severe and pervasive racial bullying are outlined in the complaint, including:

• In April 2023, David was called the N-word at lunch by a white classmate;

• In September 2023, David was called the N-word at the library by students who proceeded to physically attack him;

• In January 2024, David was called the N-word over a group chat by a classmate; and

• In January 2024, David was physically attacked near the entrance of the school by a student who called him the N-word.

“The complaint outlines violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, and requests that OCR immediately investigate Melrose as a district, and MVMMS specifically, to implement remedial and corrective action to address the widespread culture of racial bullying throughout the district

“ ‘My son was driven out of Melrose Public Schools and the METCO program by the unwillingness of the administrators to take racism seriously. He was repeatedly called racial slurs and the administration did nothing but blame and discipline him, and they should be held accountable. An investigation can’t take back the trauma David faced at a formative time in his life, but it can begin the process of ensuring Melrose is better for future Black students,’ said Nita Holder, David’s mother.

“Melrose has a history of discrimination going back to 2015 when the Office for Civil Rights opened an investigation against them for similar patterns of disturbing racial bullying,” said Erika Richmond Walton, Litigation Fellow at Lawyers for Civil Rights. “Melrose did not learn its lesson after being monitored for years, and it continues to let racial bullying run rampant in their schools. Students like David should not have to flee Melrose schools.”

In addition to the case mentioned above, a young Black girl at the Winthrop School reportedly had a small section of a braided hair weave cut off by a classmate on May 28, the latest of several reports of racial targeting against the girl at the Winthrop dating to last September.

Mayor Jen Grigoraitis, interim Superintendent of Schools John Macero and incoming Superintendent of Schools Adam Deleidi wrote in a message last week:

“We want to acknowledge that this has been a hard week for our schools and our community. We know many have seen information shared in news reports and social media posts about some very painful incidents involving racial bias in the Melrose Public Schools. As leaders of this school district and the city, we feel it is not only our job to celebrate the highlights and accomplishments of our community; we also need to acknowledge this pain and look for avenues to rebuild trust. 

“Very concerning information has been shared, but we cannot comment specifically or disclose private information about our students or employees. However, we can share that the district has hired a third-party law firm to independently investigate the incident reported last week at the Winthrop School and the school’s response. In addition, Interim Superintendent Macero communicated directly with Melrose Public Schools families who participate in the METCO program, given the unique impacts of these incidents on those families. 

“Melrose has a lot of work to do to prevent future incidents of racism. We’re committed to doing that work within the schools, but we also ask you to tackle difficult conversations and topics within your homes and families, including the ways in which our children learn racism and bias online and on social media platforms.”

A document was linked in the message shared with the community. It is called “Let’s Talk About Race and Racial Equality” and includes eight weeks worth of topics and extensive resources to facilitate discussions about race his summer. 

“As incoming Superintendent Adam Deleidi takes over for Interim Superintendent Macero this summer,” the city’s message concludes, “the Melrose Public Schools will stay committed to and focused on this important work. The District will continue to engage actively with our whole school community, including students, staff, and families to fight the influence of racism and bias in our schools.The Melrose Public Schools take any allegations of individual or systemic discrimination very seriously, and we are committed to fostering a safe and equitable educational environment for all.”