FIRST on 4: Student at high school in Danville takes disturbing photo of racist graffiti on bathroom wall

Monte Vista High School
Monte Vista High School

 

DANVILLE (KRON) — A parent at a Danville high school sent us a disturbing photograph of some racist graffiti.

The picture documented the disturbing scene in a bathroom at Monte Vista High School.

A parent reached out to us, explaining her son took the picture and immediately showed it to the vice principal.

And on Wednesday night, all parents have been sent a letter addressing the matter.danville-high-school-boys-bathroom-racist-image-taken-on-11-16-2016

On Wednesday, the San Ramon Valley Unified School District superintendent released this statement:

“In our District, harmful words used during the election coincided with two ugly incidents of racist graffiti at one of our high schools. The words exchanged on the campaign trail and the racist words written on bathroom walls cry out for how much we need to support, teach, and listen to our children.”

This is the latest in a disturbing pattern of racist graffiti and images showing up in schools in several parts of the Bay Area.

Earlier on Wednesday, KRON4 reported about an ugly racial slur at an abandoned building in Novato–not a school.

Here is the full letter to parents:

Dear SRVUSD Staff and Parents/Guardians,

As an American history and political science enthusiast, I am all too aware of how far we have come as a nation in our pursuit of treating all people with dignity and respect. And yet, events across the nation and in our own community continue to demonstrate the need to teach our children about tolerance and cross-cultural understanding.

As educators, it is our duty and calling to help young people navigate the world they live in, to teach students to think critically about the information whizzing around them, and to understand that our differences in opinion, taste, interest and culture make us stronger.

At a national level, for the past several months, our young people have experienced a very divisive presidential campaign. Across the U.S., there are examples of how our nation’s youth have responded to what was said by representatives across the political spectrum during the presidential campaign. In our District, harmful words used during the election coincided with two ugly incidents of racist graffiti at one of our high schools.

The words exchanged on the campaign trail and the racist words written on bathroom walls cry out for how much we need to support, teach and listen to our children. At the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, we are committed to fostering an environment on our campuses where we can safely speak about the similarities and differences that make us each unique. This conversation begins at the top, with commitments by the Board of Education and myself to multiple initiatives that support cross-cultural understanding on our campuses.

It is important that we engage in these dialogues through a variety of venues, formats and entry points. As a school district, we understand the necessity of these conversations taking place in the classroom. Discussions shouldn’t occur just once or twice a year as touch points to key events or commerances. They must be infused into our students’ daily experiences. We aren’t all comfortable talking about race, diversity and sexual identity. The same goes for political opinions. Yet, we teach our students to be critical thinkers. Engaging in conversations about challenges that face us as a nation is part of the democratic process.

We understand the challenges. In the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, our approach begins with professional development for our staff — training educators to help students with cultural understanding and critical thinking. Since 2013, one of our key district initiatives has been Culturally and Linguistically Responsive (CLR) teaching and learning. The goal is to support and encourage all students to become more engaged in their learning and to feel connected and included in the educational environment. We must ensure that each and every student knows that they are safe at all of our schools.

In CLR, we talk about understanding and engaging students in what Dr. Sharroky Hollie, who has worked with our District, calls the “Rings of Culture.” The rings include ethnic, national, religious, gender and youth cultural identities. We help our teachers understand these aspects and how they intersect with stereotypes, unconscious biases and judgements. With understanding comes improved support for our students and a safe place for all.

Our work has been supported with the national Fair Education Act, changes to the California Education Code and the new California State Standards. Together, they call for schools to include the contributions of members of underrepresented racial, ethnic, cultural, disabled and gender groups in history and social studies lessons. We have integrated this curriculum with existing lessons to ensure that all groups are fairly and accurately represented in our instruction. Together, this work is supported by California’s new State Standards that ask students to think through complex issues and express their opinions through written, verbal and symbolic communication. Last week, this expression manifested in two peaceful protests by a number of our high school students.

It is important that our students understand that words matter. They can be very harmful, but also can make the world a better place when used thoughtfully and with respect for each individual. This is not to say we have found the solution or that we are doing everything possible to combat harmful speech. While we have moved forward on the continuum, we still have a long way to go.

For example, we are working on creating new training for our staff on how to respond appropriately to incidents of bullying and discrimination. We have a district-level Climate Committee that has created a non-discrimination sub-committee to help guide us as we move forward with this conversation. Committee members will work in partnership with the climate groups at each middle and high school, plus the San Ramon Council of PTA’s Inclusion and Diversity committee. My hope is that these efforts will continue to create an environment where students, staff and parents can have open dialogues about these issues.

Events over the past month in the San Ramon Valley and around the country will hopefully empower our community to put that energy towards making a positive difference. It is imperative that our community as a whole pulls together to support each student in their academic, social and emotional growth.

These recent events have initiated a powerful conversation on attitudes about race, culture, politics and the importance of thoughtful speech. We can also empower our children to have their voices heard on issues that we face together. You will hear this from me over and over again: the greatest gift we can provide to our children is the gift of advocacy for themselves and others.

Next week, as I celebrate Thanksgiving with my family, I for one, will pause for a moment to think of all that I have to be grateful for — not the least of which is the opportunity to live and work in a fantastic community with great schools, students, staff and parents.

Sincerely,

Rick Schmitt
Superintendent

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