Protests outside of Nichols Middle School on gender identity issue

Apr 18, 2023

A morning protest outside Nichols Middle School Thursday, April 13 with signs reportedly reading “There are only two genders’’ and “Keep woke politics out of our schools’’ drew a sharp rebuke from Superintendent of Schools Carolyn Lyons and a counter response the following day.

People can and will disagree on issues, Lyons said at that night’s Middleboro School Committee meeting. But “the dividing line for me as this district’s leader is when all students are not protected, when all students are not accepted for who they are and are told, either directly or indirectly, that they don’t belong here in Middleboro.’’

The identities of the protestors and any specific group they might represent is not known. 

Lyons said she is forming a Diversity, Inclusion and Equity task force in part to address and discuss “hot button’’ issues. But these are issues related to the “community,’’ she said, and should not involve the town’s children.

“Children were caught in the crossfire of a debate that doesn’t belong at their feet, it doesn’t belong at their schoolhouse,’’ she said of the protest Thursday. “This is unacceptable to me.’’

On Friday morning, a group of individuals were present at the same spot as the previous day’s protests with signs that read, among other sentiments, “Support Trans Rights’’ and “Middleboro Loves You All.’’ 

A group comprising The Unitarian Universalist Society of Middleboro, the Bridgewater Communities for Civil Rights and what those organizations described as “concerned residents’’ offered a “swift, coordinated and peaceful’’ response, according to information provided by the Bridgewater Communities for Civil Rights. 

Jessica Chartoff, who serves on the School Committee but said she was speaking as a resident, said when she heard about the Thursday protest, her biggest concern was that the protest signs might be taken as “an attack on a student.’’

Free speech is not illegal, she said, “but I didn’t feel it belonged in front of the school,’’ where every student entering the school grounds could see it.

Having messages of support for students the next day in the same location would be the best way to “attempt to show students they were supported.’’

Richard Oakley, a former School Committee member, said he was especially concerned about Thursday’s message because, according to studies he cited, “research suggests that transgender kids have significantly increased risks of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts vs. their cis, hetero peers.’’

At the same meeting that Lyons criticized the Thursday protest, a Nichols Middle School student, Liam Morrison, expressed concerns about his treatment last month when he wore a shirt that read, “There are only two genders.’’

He said he was taken out of class and had a “very uncomfortable talk’’ with school officials who “told me I was not in trouble, but it sure felt like I was.’’

The 12-year-old was told to remove the shirt, he said, and when he refused, his father picked him up and took him home.

He said he was told his shirt was drawing complaints and making “people feel unsafe.’’

Morrison said his message contained “nothing harmful or threatening’’ but “just a statement I believe to be a fact.’’

“Are their feelings more important than my rights?’’ he asked. 

The school dress code states that “clothing must not state, imply, or depict hate speech or imagery that target groups based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation, or any other classification.’’

Police Chief Joseph Perkins said there were no problems at either gathering. “Everyone’s entitled to voice their viewpoints peacefully, and both groups were peaceful,’’ the chief said.