Students at a Massachusetts middle school stormed their school’s Pride celebration earlier this month and destroyed rainbow decorations in what town officials are slamming as a bigoted and intolerant display.
The young protesters charged through Marshall Simons Middle School in Burlington on June 2 because the school had encouraged its students to show their pride by wearing rainbow clothing, Nancy Bonassera, co-chair of the Burlington Equity Coalition, told the town’s Select Committee Monday.
“There was a counter-demonstration in response to what should have been a day to celebrate where students wore red white and blue clothing chanted ‘my pronouns are USA’ and destroyed rainbow decorations at the school,” said Bonassera.
The protesting students intimidated others who were gladly participating in the celebration, which was organized by the school’s Spectrum club for LGBTQ+ students and allies, computer science teacher Diana Marcus told BCAT News.
Most of the students accepted and wore rainbow flag stickers that were offered by school administrators until they noticed their peers ripping them off and throwing them on the floor.
“Over the course of the day you could actually see a reduction in the number of students walking around in rainbow-colored clothing. It was really tough.” Marcus said, adding that the protest appeared planned.
“Middle school students pick up on all this stuff. They may seem socially unaware, but our most vulnerable students are very aware of the situation around them. It was very clear that those students were not feeling supported.”
Another teacher, who asked to remain anonymous, said that many students were visibly disappointed with the retaliation.
Bonassera, whose child attends the middle school, called on school administrators to “provide consequences” to the protesting children, calling punishments an opportunity for the town to emphasize its stance on inclusivity and equality.
She also requested that the town reinstate the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion subcommittee and hire a DEI director — a position that has been vacant for a year.
“We also believe that without any direct and concrete action, these incidents will occur again an increase in severity,” she said.
Former School Committee member Carl Foss reiterated Bonassera’s call, and said he was “shocked and saddened” at the children’s demonstration.
“I thought Burlington was a safer place than Texas or Florida,” Foss said. “Obviously I was wrong.”
“Some may argue that the incidents are a school’s problem. To that I would say it runs deeper. This type of intolerant rhetoric starts in the home,” he added.
In response, Select Board Chair Mike Runyan said that the school administration was taking the matter seriously and was working with the town to investigate.
Select Board member Mike Espejo added that he hopes to see the DEI subcommittee reinstated and to place a “professional” at its helm to “lead us in the endeavor.”
“I was very upset, I’ve lost sleep over it,” Espejo said on the incident. “It kind of shocked me to my core. I didn’t think something like that could happen in Burlington.”
Marshall Simons Middle School administrators could not immediately confirm whether any students have been punished in connection to the protest.