BURLINGTON, MASS. (WHDH) - Parents and community members spoke up at a meeting of the Burlington Select Board Monday after an incident at the Marshall Simonds Middle School last week. 

The incident happened on Friday when Principal Cari Perchase said “some students had independently organized a counter message to Pride Spirit Day.”

“This became evident in the lunchroom, where several groups of students wore red, white, blue, or black, including face paint,” Perchase wrote in a letter to families. 

Perchase said stickers, banners and signs were also torn off walls and crumpled into water fountains. 

“…groups of students were heard chanting, ‘U.S.A are my pronouns,’ and students glared intimidatingly at faculty members showing pride,” Perchase continued. “Students were shamed into removing their stickers or covering their clothing with rainbows.”

Community members reacted on Monday.

“I thought Burlington was a safer place,” said parent Carl Foss.

Perchase said she received some feedback that the counter message was in response to the school not recognizing the observance of Memorial Day.

Perchase said the lack of recognition for Memorial Day was “an oversight” and said school officials apologized to students on Monday. 

She continued, saying she wished students would have contacted her directly. 

“Respect for the observance of Memorial Day and respect for the LGBTQ community are not mutually exclusive,” she said. 

Perchase said she hopes to turn this unfortunate incident into a learning opportunity. 

Members of the Select Board weighed in, in the meantime, on Monday night.

“I think what we need to do is turn down the temperature and instead of talking at each other, look each other in the face and talk to each other, hear each other’s concerns, complaints and try to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes and I think that would go a long way,” said Select Board member Mike Espejo.

The board promised to work harder to establish a concrete diversity, equity and inclusion program within Burlington and the Marshall Simonds Middle School, with the town’s superintendent of schools aiming to hire for that position within the next couple of months. 

“These are people who are our friends,” said Burlington resident Joanne Frustaci. “They are not our enemies. And it’s time for everyone to open up and listen.”

“I think it will take some time,” Foss said. “It takes a lot of hard work and conversation, but I believe in Burlington, I believe we can get there.”

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