By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
The towns of both Dover and Sherborn found themselves in the news this week, for something that was both not good news for the towns, nor an especially positive reflection of their residents. After a house party featuring an estimated 100-150 people was broken up by the Sherborn Police, both Dover and Sherborn were inundated with negative comments on social media articles about the party, with many vile insults being directed at the students that attended the party, the parents that apparently let their children go, and the seeming lack of repercussions for the party’s attendees.
Essentially, it is being reported that on September 11, the Sherborn Police responded to a house party with between 100 and 150 kids, who scattered into the woods when the police arrived. As a result, the opening of Dover-Sherborn High School for in-person learning was pushed back from September 15 to September 21, assuming no COVID cases arise from the party.
But September 21 is not fourteen days from the date of the party, which was pointed out at a school committee meeting. The answer from the Board of Health is that there is no guidance from the state about what to do when students attend a party like this, but that the fourteen day quarantine number would apply if there were reported positive cases - which so far, there are not. This would be reassessed and likely pushed back to the fourteen day threshold if someone tested positive, but the school was trying to strike a balance between being safe and not pushing classes' starts too far from their original date.
After the party, Superintendent Andrew Keough released a statement which read in part: “We have no way of knowing the names of all of the people who attended the party or whether they might have been exposed to the Coronavirus. What we do know is that there were students from a number of different communities (some private schools, some public), the party was out of control, there was a great deal of under aged drinking, and emergency personnel had to be called in to provide support … As your superintendent, I have no interest in publicly shaming the individuals involved with this event, nor do I think it is the first example of risky behavior to have taken place in our two towns since March. What I can say is I am incredibly disappointed that we as a community cannot control ourselves or our kids enough to keep our communities safe.”
While there may be no way to know all the DS students at the party, surely the school knows some of them. Around the country, we have seen harsh penalties against students that broke large gathering protocols. Northeastern threw eleven students out for attending a party, and NYU has suspended students for attending parties - even those students who are not attending any in-person classes. While those are colleges, high school kids have been punished in some way (losing athletic opportunities, for example) for getting in trouble off of school property. With this in mind, I reached out to Superintendent Keough to see what disciplinary actions he possibly could take, or would take, against these students.
“Honestly, I think it best for the students and families involved, the community, and the schools that we move on from this topic," said the superintendent in an email. "Many students have been ridiculed and ostracized (even bullied) for their role in the event, and I do not want that to be prolonged by anything I might say or do. This was a case of bad decision-making by young people. As such, I am afraid I am going to have to decline further comment, other than what I wrote in my letter, which I have attached to this email. I hope you can appreciate my position.”
Even in the age of COVID, it’s doubtful that the new normal involves being bullied by your peers for going to a wild high school party with over 100 kids present. Instead, it is likely that the bullying Keough noted is coming from adults from around the state, who responded very harshly on social media to the story when it became statewide news. Given Dover and Sherborn’s affluence, allegations of the two towns' kids being spoiled and entitled were found in many of the Boston media story’s comment sections, including jokes about Dover-Sherborn kids just coming home from their summer houses to attend the party, and thinly-veiled attacks about how the story would have been different, had kids of lesser means or a different skin hue done the same things they did.
There were some supporters of the partygoers, however. While most disavowed underage drinking, many did argue that kids will be kids, and that the lockdowns and lack of things like high school sports could have contributed to the increased desire for a large party. Of the “kids will be kids” supporters, the inevitable comparison to BLM rallies kept coming up. I reached out to the Board of Health to see how they would counter this argument: that it’s hypocritical to applaud hundreds of kids for attending an outdoor rally while scolding them for an outdoor party. They pointed out that unlike a free-for-all party, the rallies in Sherborn have been very structured, because of the Board's guidance and work. As Daryl Beardsley explained,
“Regarding BLM rallies, I do not want to attempt to respond to anecdotal comments on social media," said Daryl Beardsley. "I can only describe the experiences of Sherborn specifically. When a rally was to be held at a local church, organizers worked with Sherborn's Interdepartmental COVID-19 Workgroup to plan safety measures for the gathering. All measures worked well and included: holding the event outdoors, mask-wearing, ensuring distancing, planning ahead for managing overflow crowds, announcements to inform attendees of safety measures, etc. Other BLM activities in Sherborn entailed people gathering at distributed roadside locations throughout town - so as to keep density and numbers low at any one location - in addition to wearing masks and distancing.”
He later noted: “We also participate in structuring whatever activities we can to adhere to the guidance and requirements (e.g., how town offices function, what do Council On Aging events look like, how Farm Pond’s beach was managed). We did collaborate with school administration to communicate to the school community about the actions attendees and their families should take. As mentioned, our interdepartmental COVID-19 Workgroup did reach out to the BLM activities to advise on and assist with safe practices.”
One of the more interesting things about the story is that this incident is being being compared to a similar party held in Lincoln-Sudbury: another two-town district. Beardsley, however, told me it is just a coincidence, and that there’s no connection between having a high school composed of two towns and the problems a party like this would create.
“In my opinion, the parties in two two-town districts are merely coincidental (consider that youth parties have been an issue in single-town school districts too). Any potential difficulties due to a multi-town district were removed when Dover's and Sherborn's Boards of Health began collaborating on COVID-19 responses in January. At our most recent meeting, we discussed initiating additional efforts to promote safe formats for more youth activities. So far, this has mostly been done for sports with the help of State and athletic association guidance. Variations on upcoming Halloween activities are being considered by both the BOHs and the COVID-19 Workgroup.”
As the school system looks to move on, Dover and Sherborn's residents are hopeful that the next time their towns make the statewide news, it will be for something far more positive than a party with an abundance of liquor and a severe lack of social distancing.