BURRILLVILLE – Saying students from Burrillville are facing harassment and ridicule following a decision by the Rhode Island Interscholastic League to put the district on a one-year probation for “unsportsmanlike conduct,” parents and officials this week came out against what they say is a lack of leadership and action by the Burrillville School Department.
“What can we do as a town to protect our kids?” asked Jennifer Jenks during an appeal to the Town Council this week by a group of concerned parents and educators. “I do not think it’s fair or right the way our students are being punished.”
The controversy involving Burrillville students began during a girls volleyball match in September in which some bystanders accused fans of making inappropriate and racist comments. The students were reportedly donning American flags and wearing red, white and blue clothing as part of a theme night supporting Burrillville sports.
Councilor Donald Fox noted that four students from Burrillville were disciplined following an investigation of the incident by the Burrillville School Department, and one was banned from attending future athletic events.
At a meeting on Friday, Oct. 11, RIIL took up the incident, and ultimately issued a long list of disciplinary actions, including a one year probationary period for Burrillville athletes.
Fox called the decision inconsistent with past rulings by the organization – the governing body for school sports in the state – pointing to multiple coaches who were ejected from sporting events, but who weren’t disciplined for more than one or two games.
He described the public’s reaction following the claim against the students as a “social media frenzy.”
“Guilt was assumed and no proof had to be given by the accuser,” said Fox.
“Racial hate speech and insensitivity should never be tolerated,” said Fox, while pointing out that the students were actually not found guilty of any type of racism. “It was clearly a knee-jerk reaction to the fake news media coverage of this event.”
Fox said he has contacted multiple school officials hoping to address the issue.
Supt. Michael Sollitto, he said, did not want to appeal the ruling due to fear of even harsher punishment. School Committee Chairman Mark Brizard, Fox said, never responded to his calls for a joint meeting.
“This was ignored, and it was ignored repeatedly,” said Fox. “We needed leadership from the School Committee and we didn’t get it.”
“I’m not fine with our students being used as pawns through racial warfare in politically correct idiocy,” said Fox. “The results of this ruling affects our athletes and their parents. The majority of the people in our town are seeking resolution, clarification.”
Fox said at recent athletic games, Burrillville students have been harassed, called names, and even spit at.
It was a portrayal of the current climate across the state that includes reactions against those from Burrillville.
And it was repeated by several concerned residents.
Jenks described rocks being thrown at cars with Broncos bumper stickers.
Baseball coach Brian Loynds told the council, “My concern is not only for the current students, but my players in the spring.”
“I challenge you all here today to come up with some kind of creative action,” Loynds said.
Michelle Boudreau said her daughter, a student at CCRI, became extremely uncomfortable when follow students started discussing the incident during a class.
“Now she feels she cannot wear anything that has ‘Burrillville’ on it,” Boudreau said. “Now she doesn’t feel comfortable in her own state at a local college. People don’t understand. It’s hard. I hope the Town Council can try to do something to get the label off our town.”
“I think it’s unjust, and I truly believe something needs to be done,” said Jenks.
Councilor Raymond Trinque pointed out that the athletes are being punished for the actions of fans.
“This didn’t come from the volleyball court,” Trinque said.
Councilors met in executive session following the meeting to discuss the possibility of an appeal of the RIIL decision, or litigation of the issue.
“The Burrillville Town Council does not support the School Committee decision to not appeal the excessive sanction imposed by Rhode Island Interscholastic League’s Principals’ Committee on Athletics,” noted councilors in a statement issued following the meeting. “The false allegations have tarnished the reputation of the town of Burrillville and the Burrillville School District, particularly the students and athletes.”
The statement noted that the investigation that was completed by RIIL concluded there were “no overt racial or sexist words, comments or allusions expressed at any time within the earshot of officials or coaches.”
“The Burrillville Town Council has authorized the administration and solicitor to research any and all courses of action,” the statement noted. “In the meantime, we implore the School Committee to reverse their decision to not appeal.”
Sollitto told NRI NOW that the School Committee plans to issue a statement on the issue on Friday, Oct. 25.