Middle School Video: Statements from Teacher, School Officials & Police Union

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Watertown Middle School

Watertown Middle School

The showing of a video to a group of Watertown Middle School students caused an uproar in Town. The video is being called anti-police and misleading, with some calling for the teacher who showed it to be disciplined or fired.

The video, which was created by MTV, was not sanctioned by Watertown School officials before it was shown during Community Meeting at WMS in February.

Superintendent Dede Galdston said that she cannot share details of a personnel matter, that the Watertown Public School officials are looking into the incident.

“While personnel matters cannot be shared publicly, please know that District leadership will address this incident directly in a way that is consistent with School Committee policies and procedures,” Galdston wrote in a statement released Saturday.

Among the statements in the video that people have objected is the opening line that said that “… police are 99 to 100 percent racist.” (The video can be viewed by clicking here).

The teacher who showed the video, Spanish teacher Ruth Henry was contacted for comment and released the following written statement:

“I know that this is an extremely volatile conversation and I am committed to sharing more dialogue with the community as I am able. For the moment, however, I am looking forward to working internally with the stakeholders involved to explore a mutual resolution.”

Henry also works with students and community members on the Kingian Principles of Nonviolent Conflict Reconciliation, which is based on Martin Luther King Jr.’s Principles of Nonviolence Resistance.

School Officials’ Response

Many have reacted to the incident, and some have issued official statements, including school officials, the police union and a group of Town employees.

Superintendent Dede Galdston sent out a letter Saturday apologizing for the incident.

“The video, along with the follow-up discussion, did damage to our school and community, was hurtful to students and families; for that, we are deeply sorry,” Galdston wrote. “The Watertown Public Schools greatly appreciates the ongoing support that the Watertown Police have provided us. We value their continued collaboration with our schools and their work in the community.”

Neither the WMS nor the district administrators knew that the video was going to be shown Galdston wrote, and Henry did not inform her colleague who co-facilitated the Community Meeting.

Galston added that: “Educators are providers of information whose curricular decisions should instruct and inform, not politicize and divide. The incident that occurred during the Community Meeting did not reflect our values and standards.”

Watertown Middle School Principal Donna Martin echoed Galdston’s apology in the WMS Community Bulletin sent out on Sunday. She said that the school seeks to rebuild the trust and safe environment.

“In recent days, I have been working with the teachers of the Community Meeting and discussing how to regain the safe environment that existed before February 11th. They have resumed meeting with students in smaller groups, as well as ensuring the chat is between students and teachers only, and not between students for now. We are planning activities that rebuild the trust of the group so they may work together and support one another cohesively,” Martin wrote.

Police Union, Town Employee Reaction

On behalf of the Watertown Police Association, President John Bartolomucci said that he would not comment on any personnel decision about Henry, but said that he was troubled that the students were shown the video.

“We are however disappointed that a teacher has felt the need to put a personal agenda before the school curriculum,” Bartolomucci said. “We are disturbed by the video in general but more so that it was shown specifically to young children that are at a very tough and vulnerable age.”

He added that the Watertown Police try to foster good relationships with the youth of the Town, including the Cops and Kids after school programs, the Whooley Foundation gift drive at Christmas and Community Bike Patrols. See the entire statement below.

A letter signed by 111 Town of Watertown employees also expressed outrage that the video had been shown, and noted Henry’s ties to the Watertown’s Kingian Nonviolence Training program.

“… we find the contents of the video glaring, misinformed, and all to be shown by Ruth Henry, truly alarming. Henry who, in the very essence of her training, is supposed to be fostering greater community participation, is only creating a greater divide between the Watertown Police Department, and their community, specifically our youth,” reads the letter sent to Town Manger Michael Driscoll, Galdston, and CC’d to the Town Council, School Committee and Martin.

See the letter below:

Townwide Employee Letter by Charlie Breitrose on Scribd

Watertown Police Association Statement

We see this as a school matter and won’t comment specifically on personnel decisions. We are however disappointed that a teacher has felt the need to put a personal agenda before the school curriculum. We are disturbed by the video in general but more so that it was shown specifically to young children that are at a very tough and vulnerable age. The nature of this video can mold an adolescent’s mind and could blur the lines between fact and fiction. I myself have not been able to watch the entire video due to its many inaccuracies.  

The members of this Association make it a priority to attempt to garner new and positive relationships with the youth of the community. Our members strive to be role models and a resource for a safe and supportive environment for all community members. I invite the school department to reach out anytime they feel different about our relationship with the youth in our public schools. 

We stand by our positive interactions and relationships with the youth in town and the programs that have been in place for a number of years now, the DARE program, the Cops and Kids after school program, the Police Athletic League (PAL), Shop with a Cop, Girls and Goals, the Boys and Girls Club recreational events, Community Bike Patrols, and the very important Whooley Foundation. Many officers on the force today have been part of those positive and successful programs as children, myself included. All these programs have set a strong foundation of who we are not only as Police Officers but as being adults in this community. 

We welcome everyone to be part of these great programs and also welcome the discussion on the great things that we do here for residents of all ages in town.

John Bartolomucci
President
 
Watertown Police Association

14 thoughts on “Middle School Video: Statements from Teacher, School Officials & Police Union

  1. Good for the town employees for sending out this letter. I don’t believe in the cancel culture but I do think this teacher needs to be disciplined.

  2. I think the context of the video presentation and the purpose of its showing need to be examined. The video addresses the larger history of policing in this country and, frankly, it’s pretty accurate. There is no indication that the Watertown Police Department is targeted. Before we condemn, we need to hear.

    • My Grand Dad was a Lynn,Ma.Police Officer back in the 30s ,My Step son is striving to be a State Trooper.So lady your Statement in agreeing that “99%-100% of the Police in this Country are Racist .” Is sorely mistaken ,and Grossly negligent.Yes There are Bad Cops .And They must be held accountable.But don’t you dare lump them all in as the Same then call for Unity. Your Hypocrisy quite frankly stinks to High Heaven.

  3. I haven’t watched the video yet but am struck by how the police department and other members of the town are reacting defensively. I would think that the video should be seen as a teaching moment. Rather than attack the free speech of the students, you should delve into the concepts and beliefs with your best understanding of what they are trying to address. If this is a student made video, you should take into account that they are students and that you will need to do more to understand some important members of the community. Education is often a 2 way street.

    • David,
      This was an MTV video where the thesis “99-100% of policing is racist” and goes on to say that police only exist to insure white supremacy and to protect capitalism. The teacher, Ruth Henry, who showed the video is a Spanish teacher and also a Kingian trainer with in the school. (Please look up the Kingian principles of non violence and you’ll see this video violates these principles). The video, which was not approved by either the School or the co-teacher was shown during a “Community Meeting”. Community Meetings are held during homeroom. Their purpose is discuss issues in a constructive and supportive way to find common ground and to “build community”. They cover a number of issues around emotional health. They also sometimes talk about sensitive things like implicit racial bias and ways to identify them in themselves so they can grow as people. This video simply pointed a finger at police and called them all racists and used selective historical contexts to support this idea. You can imagine that some of students and their friends, who have parents and relatives in the WPD, may have been upset. Essentially an out of control Zoom remote learning brawl erupted. This video failed to “build community” among our students and it’s message has also further divided our city. Keep in mind that in 2016, this teacher asked the Watertown Police to undergo Kingian training and they jumped in with both feet. In 2017, both Lt Dan Unsworth and Ruth Henry were honored at the MLK Unity Breakfast for their work on Kingian training and racial bias both in the schools and within the WPD. The WPD had members volunteer to help her paint her MLK inspired mural on the Boys and Girls Club. The WPD partnered with Ruth Henry, her daughter, and the Kingian Response Team to co-sponsor a vigil after the death of George Floyd. No one is saying there is no racial bias in the WPD, or any government or private entity in Watertown. However, no group has gone further to engage in anti bias training in attempt to assuage public concern. Their thanks for all their efforts is to have their Kingian Trainer, Ruth Henry, show a video to their kids and their kids classmates that says they are racists. They put forth an honest and sincere effort and have had their trust betrayed by the very person that had supported for so long. I don’t see how the WPD and the Watertown Public Schools can have an effective relationship as long as Ruth Henry remains in her role as a Kingian trainer.

      • Everyone is racist in some ways- we all make judgements of others and we can’t help it. It’s not an insult to all police officers to say that social circumstances affect everyone. It’s just that police specifically have to be hyper aware of them and control their own actions thoughtfully due to their job requirements. Also as a former student of Señora Henry, she’s wonderful. :))

  4. I’m disgusted by this teacher! We can not allow teachers to push hateful lies and misinformation on the youth! She knew exactly what she was doing and should be fired!!!

  5. I do hope everyone getting their panties in a knot over the “99-100%” quote realizes that it is a JOKE referring to the first line of Lizzo’s song “Truth Hurts”… makes you feel quite silly for taking it even remotely seriously.

  6. The presenter in the video says “Modern policing just took a DNA test. Turns out it’s 99-100% racist.” That’s an exact quote. (Google: MTV American policing)

    That is clearly a reference to/riff on the enormous popularity of exploring one’s ancestry via home DNA tests. The line was intended as an attention grabbing opening using a familiar reference. The video goes on to review some of the well-researched, long-since documented, textbook examples of the historical origins of American policing and incarceration practices.

    It’s a great shame that, rather than informed discussion, some quickly chose to frame documented examples of a problematic history as an attack on the Watertown police, a source of trauma to middle school children, and grounds for discrediting and calling for the firing and worse, of a dedicated and inspiring teacher. And an even greater shame, from my perspective as a Black woman and a parent, that the Superintendent apologized for the video before any substantive open discussion took place. I can only hope calmer heads can prevail.

    • Marilyn, thanks for your level-headed comment. You are right that this moment could have been used for a discussion that would have led Watertown to a better place. Indeed there is a problematic history and currently a cultural problem in policing nationwide. A local discussion is appropriate.

      However some people felt compelled to exploit this as an opportunity to vent their anger and hatred instead of having an intelligent discussion. I feel sad for the children of Watertown that their education so often becomes a political football. This doesn’t help their future.

      While it seems to me that policing in Watertown is better than many places, I am a white person and I don’t really know how those who aren’t white experience it. But it seems to me there are many who don’t care to know.

      For me, this besmirches Watertown’s history as being welcoming to immigrants who have often face prejudice elsewhere. If only we could carry this history into the twentieth first century and make certain that Watertown is welcoming for all it would reflect well on all of us.

      Those who have knee-jerk responses to everything are not helping anything at all.

  7. Doesn’t matter what was shown. It was not in the curriculum. Was it ok’d with anyone? Was it NOT in the curriculum? NO. She was WRONG! Bottom line. People need to be held accountable for their acts.

    • Teachers show students things that aren’t in the curriculum most days. It’s nice and I learned a lot that way.. teachers find things related to curriculum they think is interesting and that students would like and then they show it. Which is how it should be

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