By Holly Hageman, RSD #17 Superintendent of Schools.
Dear HK Community,
The Region 17 schools promote a secure and safe school climate, conducive to teaching and learning that is free from threat, harassment and any type of bullying behavior. Bullying or harassment of a student by another student is prohibited. As I wrote in my letter to you on May 31st, racism, bigotry, and bullying have no place in the RSD17 schools and will not be tolerated.
Students who engage in any act of bullying or harassment are subject to appropriate disciplinary action up to and including suspension, expulsion and/or referral to law enforcement. This applies to acts on school grounds, at a school-sponsored or school related activity, function or program whether on or off school grounds, at a school bus stop, on a school bus or other vehicle owned, leased or used by the Board of Education, or through the use of an electronic device, or an electronic mobile device, owned, leased or used by the Board of Education, and outside of the school setting if such act(s) creates a hostile environment at school for the target, infringes on the rights of the target at school, or substantially disrupts the educational process or the orderly operation of a school.
While the district continues to investigate to determine who wrote the blatantly racist comment on a middle school student’s yearbook page, the divides that exist in this country as exposed through the death of George Floyd and the resulting protests are playing out locally through social media. Citizens are bringing to my attention screenshots and videos from teenagers’ social media conversations conducted via their personal phones. The school district stands committed to confronting racism through our educational practices and policies and our schools must be free of prejudice. But in addition, when it comes to teenagers outside of school, on their phones, engaging in heated arguments over the protests taking place in our country and worse, using thinly veiled or direct racist language about black people, parents also need to be part of the solution to this racist behavior. The school district is limited in its reach over remarks or actions which are not made on school grounds, at a school-sponsored or school related activity, or through an electronic mobile device which does not belong to the school district, and this is where parent intervention must also play a role. I am therefore appealing to parents to monitor teenagers’ social media interactions, particularly while we are not at school where teachers can help to facilitate productive conversations. And if as adults we are actually not on the same page when it comes to the absolute condemnation of racism, then rely on this simple quote to advise youngsters until we can all get there, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I completely agree with parents and dozens of students who have contacted me to say, “This has to stop!” We as adults, educators and parents, need to unite in creating schools and communities where everyone feels valued, safe, and respected.
On behalf of the RSD17 Board of Education and staff, I pledge that the school system will expand upon the literature our students read to develop empathy and appreciation for diversity, and to learn about the contributions and achievements as well as the struggle and injustice people of color have had to endure. We will review and confirm that our curricula addresses racism and promotes the work of diverse scholars, historians and activists. We will continue to provide assemblies and workshops that address issues of racism and provide facilitated venues for students to share their experiences and learn from one another. Our professional development will engage staff in stewarding culturally and linguistically responsive practices. We will promote the shared reading of recommended books including How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi and White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, both of which are almost completely sold out through online retailers as they are in great demand nationally. We have also reached out to Youth and Family Services to partner in planning for community conversations. If
you have ideas about these conversations, please contact HKYFS Director, Laurie Ruderfer, at 860-345-7498, mailbox 1.
The school district’s actions will be ongoing and sustained so that no student utters the N-word or “go back to your country” in our schools. Until racism and bigotry are gone from our schools and communities, our work will not be complete.