One of the cornerstone components of our RUSD Vision is that students become their "Best Selves." This entails speaking and acting in respectful ways, appreciative of diversity and other cultures and perspectives.
To promote Best Self behavior, we have programs in place at each grade level and school-wide to promote this vision and these values, and to ensure that all students feel safe at school. Some of these programs include:
- David Roche and Marlena Blavin's Love at Second Sight assembly,
- Soul Shop and Challenge Day programs in 7th and 8th grades respectively,
- Common Sense Media and other advisory lessons that focus on no bullying and being an "upstander" who advocates for self and others.
We are proud that due to these and other efforts, Del Mar scored in the 99th percentile as a caring, engaged community based on the most recent California Healthy Kids Student Survey.
Despite these efforts, we have seen a rise in unacceptable and hateful speech behavior on the part of some of our students which is of grave concern. Having spoken with my principal colleagues at other southern Marin schools, this issue extends beyond Del Mar; it has become a common theme and focus of all our attention.
More specifically, we had a recent incident where a student discovered a small swastika etched on a peer's eraser, found the "N" word and anti gay remarks penciled on students' lockers, and comments about some of our Muslim students being terrorists. What these incidents have in common is that some of our students have been targeted because of race, religion or sexuality.
We are addressing this issue at school in a variety of ways and I am writing to enlist your support at home. At school, we have and are:
- Utilizing some of our advisory time to raise awareness and create a forum for students to voice their feelings, ideas and concerns.
- Devoting professional development time to send some staff to presentations by the Anti-Defamation League at other school sites.
- Planning a school-wide assembly with a multi-denominational panel to address all students about the what's and the why's associated with these forms of hate speech.
- Promoting the message of "if you see something, say something," so can be aware and respond more immediately if and when subsequent issues arise.
- Reminding students of their No Bully Pledge made at the onset of the school year, and that it is their obligation to advocate on behalf of themselves or others.
These are cultural competency skills, and we are doing our best to teach students how to embody these skills as an engaged citizen within our school community.
When we catch a student who has committed this type of offense, we discipline the student, speak with the family, and also take the opportunity to engage him/her in a restorative practice to help educate and do some community service type of activity so this person learns from mistakes and gives back to the community in a positive way.
It heartens me that regarding these incidences,many students shared their concern and disgust with a teacher, counselor, or an administrator to let us know what has been happening. Students in Friday's lunch time TEA Club initiated a recent Mix-it-Up (Nobody Eats Alone) Day and are brainstorming other ideas to raise all students' awareness and stop these offensive behaviors.
We ask that families please work in partnership with us and reinforce the following messages with your child.
- First and foremost, students need to understand that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated.
- We will follow Ed Code in response to any type of hateful act, and students involved will face serious consequences.
- It is never okay to use hate speech, even when joking. Certain words, symbols, and phrases anchored in a history of hurt and oppression, perpetuate hate and stereotypes are never acceptable, not even when joking between friends.
- We would like our students to stand up for others when they hear hateful and derogatory language and/or let an adult (e.g. parent, counselor, teacher) know when they see or hear things that make them uncomfortable.
These conversations are not always easy. They are, however, extremely important for all of us to have. Thank you for working in partnership with us ~ our children are worth it!
Alan Vann Gardner
Principal, Del Mar Middle School