Amherst Regional High School in bloom
Perhaps the most memorable rite of Spring around our education oriented Happy Valley is graduation day -- especially High School graduation.
A special time with your friends to celebrate what seemed like endless years of dedication and focus, all together as one BIG happy family, perhaps, for the very last time.
But this coming June, as some 240+ ARHS seniors march down the isle of the Mullins Center in their caps and gowns to the tune of "Pomp & Circumstance," one young man will be absent.
In fact he's been absent since January 27 -- the day Amherst Regional High School failed to open due to an "unforeseen circumstance."
Dylan Akalis, age 18, a white Holyoke resident who "choiced in" to ARHS was on the receiving end of racial bullying by three black students because he dared to use the "N-word" (5 letter version ending in A) as a term of endearment with a friend who is black.
After repeated fruitless attempts by Dylan and his father (a school employee) to get the schools to protect him, Dylan desperately took matters into his own hands by naively posting a vague "threat" on a Facebook confessions site.
School Superintendent Maria Geryk quickly spotted the anonymous post, but by 3:00 a.m. Monday morning (January 27th) town Information Technology Director Kris Pakunas had identified Dylan as the poster.
Amherst and Holyoke police interviewed the Akalis family that morning but the High School was closed anyway as a "precaution," while state bomb squad officers searched the building. No bombs were discovered and Amherst police concluded that Dylan had never actually brought a handgun to school. Ever.
The three black youth who bullied Dylan went unpunished while Dylan was banned for 12 school days, and his parents then decided to keep him out for the rest of his senior year. Fortunately he already had enough credits to graduate.
Even the Schools internal investigation corroborated Dylan's story, concluding: "There were separate behaviors during the series of events that are consistent with the definition of both bullying and racial harassment."
On Friday, May 9, in a meeting with ARHS Principal Mark Jackson, Dylan's parents were shocked to learn he would not be allowed to march in the ARHS Mullins Center graduation ceremony -- even though Dylan has earned his diploma.
Principal Jackson seemed more concerned about public relations than safety, claiming that allowing Dylan to march with classmates could be disruptive. However, no media have published Dylan's identify, so you have to wonder how a backlash could occur when the audience would not even recognize him?
Yes, the three black students and their parents know Dylan, but since they are all Juniors why would they attend the graduation ceremony this year?
If Dylan was a teacher of color being racially harassed, the Schools would have provided him a bodyguard. But since he's just a white inner-city kid who will be attending Holyoke Community College rather than Harvard or Yale, he's on his own.
Makes you wonder how many other kids Amherst Public Schools write off because of the color of their skin? Or should I say, lack of color.