‘Should be in the Monkey Exhibit’: Family Allegedly Fled Connecticut Home After 14-Year-old Son’s Classmates Sent Him a Barrage of Racist Messages, School Official Found ‘No Wrongdoing’

A Black teenager and his family said they fled their home in Connecticut after the 14-year-old was sent a barrage of racist messages, photos, and sexually suggestive content from his classmates.

School district officials and state law enforcement launched investigations in May and June after learning that 10 children targeted their Black classmate and sent him disturbing, racist content in several online message groups.

That content amounted to hundreds of messages, photos, and videos with racial slurs and sexually explicit language and gestures.

Nathan Hale-Ray Middle School (Photo: East Haddam Public Schools)

Snapchat groups called the “Ku Klux Klan” were filled with these hateful messages and included photos of the boy’s face with racial epithets superimposed on it. One thread contained the N-word over 300 times.

In one incident, a student took a picture of the teen as he got on a school bus and posted it to a Snapchat group with the caption, “This dumbass n— got on my bus.”

“I don’t like this guy for his color,” another person posted in a different group.

The teen said the harassment didn’t start until this year, according to the Hartford Courant. For months, he had been on friendly terms with his peers after enrolling in Nathan Hale-Ray Middle School in January 2023. He was placed in a class of 85 students who made up his entire grade. He was one of the only students of color.

In February of this year, some of his classmates started targeting him after learning about slavery during Black History Month. His class learned about racist monkey imagery that is used to belittle Black people, and that’s when they began mocking him with monkey pictures and calling him racial slurs.

“Some people said the N-word to my face directly in school,” the boy said. “No teachers heard because … they weren’t paying attention to us directly.”

Students added him to racist Snapchat groups and directly sent him monkey pictures with messages like “Justin stop taking pics” or “Caught you.”

One student wrote, “Hey n—. U should be in the monkey exhibit. U mom should too.”

One video also showed another student saying, “I didn’t see you there n—. Want to go clean my lawn for me? Oh wait, I’m going to whip you first.”

It wasn’t until the teen’s father found all of the messages during a random check of the boy’s phone that school officials were notified. His father met with a guidance counselor and the school’s now-retired principal but ultimately decided to withdraw his son from school and opted to let him complete the rest of his eighth-grade coursework for the year online.

While the school’s policy is to establish protective measures for a student who is a target for bullying, the teen’s father said the school took no such action.

“They had no steps in place for him to go back to school to be safe,” the teen’s father said. “They just wanted to throw him back in school with these kids.”

The school district launched an investigation on May 31. Less than a week passed before the superintendent met with the teen’s parents to inform them that district officials found no wrongdoing and chalked up the behavior to “just kids playing,” the parents claim.

“When she told me that, I immediately stood up and I told her directly, verbatim, ‘If you don’t see a problem, then you’re the problem,’ and I walked out,” the boy’s father said.

School officials also never disclosed to the parents whether the bullies were punished or the outcome of their investigation into the message groups, citing school policies and federal laws.

Connecticut State Police are still conducting their investigation. At a board of education meeting in June, local NAACP and Black Lives Matter leaders called for authorities to investigate the case as a hate crime. Police did confirm that their hate crimes unit is involved.

The teen’s father said that after law enforcement notified the families of the students who were members of the Snapchat groups, the students began removing themselves from the chat groups and deleting their old messages.

In the weeks since the investigation started, the family stated that they haven’t received a police report, an update from law enforcement on the investigation, or any communications from school district officials on whether any disciplinary measures were enforced.

“I expect it, to be blatantly honest. The system is not designed for Black people,” the boy’s father said. “I can’t say I’m shocked. It’s more disappointment and hurt that in 2024, people would still think that it’s OK.”

The teen no longer lives in Connecticut, according to family members. The family plans to put him in racial trauma therapy and relocate as well once they secure enough money.

“I just want him to understand that it’s OK to be yourself, it’s OK that you’re Black and you can love yourself and people treat you right, you treat them right … That’s the goal for me with him,” the teen’s father said.

Nathan Hale-Ray Middle School is part of the East Haddam Public School District in Connecticut. According to demographic data from the state, of the 999 students who were enrolled in the district in the 2023-2024 school year, more than 88 percent were white. The district withheld what percentage of students were Black “to ensure confidentiality,” the Hartford Courant reported.

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