Racism claims probed at Middleboro High School

Alice C. Elwell

The high school is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights for lack of action on racial discrimination incidents.

The allegations involve remarks made to students by former football coach David DeFelice, who denied the allegations, but said he could not comment while the investigation is ongoing.

David Thomas, from the Washington, D.C., Office of Civil Rights, said the investigation was launched because the school “failed to respond to some racial harassment incidents.”

The parent who filed the complaint declined to be interviewed, but parent Elaine Wright, who is familiar with the allegations, said her son, who is black, was also the victim of racist remarks made by DeFelice.

Wright, a white parent, said her son, who is Haitian, had been singled out because of color.

Since the complaint was filed in November, “miraculously things have gotten better,” Wright said.

She said DeFelice resigned his position as coach over the allegations, but DeFelice denies that is the reason.

One example of racism, Wright contends, was DeFelice's custom of separating the white players from the black players and having them play against each other at practice.

The Enterprise obtained a copy of the complaint under the Freedom of Information Act, but names were omitted.

According to the complaint, the coach made offending comments such as, “Don't be too hard on him, blacks learn slower than whites.”

The complaint goes on to report that a group of parents met with Athletic Director David Paling, Principal Katherine Flaherty and School Superintendent Robert M. Sullivan, but the allegations were “dismissed.”

The complaint also said the coach called all the players, black and white, “unimaginable names” that included “loser, moron, phonies and worthless.”

The complaint says the coach continued name calling off the field and in the classroom.

DeFelice declined to discuss the allegations, “out of respect for the process, while it's under investigation.”

He did clarify his resignation, saying, “I had resigned as head coach before the season began. The allegations have nothing to do with my resignation.”

DeFelice said the team made great strides in his six years as head coach, “but the last two seasons fell far short of our goals. I felt it was time for someone else to take the next stretch.”

“Oh my God,” said former student Chelsea James, 22, when she heard about the allegations.

James had many classes with DeFelice during her four years at Middleboro High School.

The young black woman is no stranger to racism, saying, “I've experienced a lot of racism and been the victim of plenty of hate crimes, due to ignorance in that school, and I didn't like it.”

But she calls the allegations against DeFelice “ridiculous.”

“It's shameful, I can almost guarantee it's a false accusation,” James said.

Superintendent Robert M. Sullivan said he received the complaint, but out of respect for the investigation he declined to comment.

“I am cooperating with the Office of Civil Rights and providing everything requested well within the time frame,” he said.