This has been a trying year. While there have been steps forward like Supreme Court rulings on Fair Housing, Affordable Healthcare and Same Sex Marriage; we are reminded at seemingly every turn that not all Americans are treated as equals yet. The combination of non-existent gun control laws, inadequate attention to issues surrounding proper mental healthcare, out of control police departments and the sin which has plagued our nation since we became a nation, racism, will continue to derail us until we act as one to cure our illnesses.
Perhaps no one feels the burden of dealing with these issues on a daily basis more than our educators. Brookline presents perhaps more challenges than most communities in dealing with these situations. Brookline is a community with both a large wealthy and large impoverished population, as well as considerable diversity, which includes seemingly every race, nationality and religion. There is no safe place to hide your head in the sand here. While all of this is absolutely a good thing, the challenges to help our young people make heads or tails of each new national tragedy are daunting.
While no day can be easy for a high school principal, BHS Headmaster Deb Holman recently experienced one of her biggest challenges. On one day, our nation was rocked by the senseless murders in Charleston. On the next, four BHS sophomores made a PowerPoint presentation to their fellow students, which included unspeakable racial expletives.
Headmaster Holman addressed the Charleston incident with an address to the student body. After conducting an investigation into the racial statement incident among her students, she sent a letter to the students’ parents and guardians. On the Charleston event, Holman commented,
“The numerous race-related events nationally this year have caused us to address in various BHS venues just how these impact our school community. I strongly believe that national and global events do impact BHS. On occasion, I will speak on the intercom to address the whole high school about a weighty event. This is always a tricky judgment call since, sadly, a principal could spend her life on the intercom paying homage to human tragedy and sadness. Obviously, the South Carolina shootings had to be noted schoolwide; there was so much grief”.
Headmaster Holman’s Announcement to BHS Regarding Charleston, SC
delivered 6/19/2015 to the student body
As we near the end of the year and we prepare for final exams and projects, I’d like to take a moment to stop and briefly reflect as a school community.
This year, we – as Brookline High students and faculty – have been engaged in an important dialogue about racism, bias, and privilege. Here at BHS and in our nation. National events such as the deaths of African American men on Staten Island and Ferguson, MO and Baltimore, MD, as well as other events have challenged our notions of equality in a modern America.
This week as you know, in Charleston, South Carolina, nine members of the Emanuel African Episcopal Church were shot dead while attending a weekly prayer group. The crime was obscene, offensive, and outrageous. In a nation where the idea that “all men and women are created equal” – and to have this sort of crime occur against innocent citizens – suggests that our nationwide dialogue and our Brookline High work on racism, bias, and privilege have a long way to go.
Many of us, like those in South Carolina, are having strong emotional reactions to this tragedy. Today is a day of grief and mourning for all of us.
Please join me in a moment of silence to mourn the loss of the 9 individuals killed in Charleston and to acknowledge our continued hope for a peaceful world, peaceful nation, and peaceful local community.
Letter Sent to BHS Parents/Guardians Following the Racial Slur Incident
To: BHS Parents/Guardians
From: Deborah Holman, Headmaster
Date: June 25, 2015
I am writing to you about an incident that happened at BHS last week. Last Thursday during a student-led presentation, as four students were doing their PowerPoint presentation, a slide was projected that contained a phrase with expletives and a racial slur at the end of a short paragraph. The teacher stopped the presentation and had the slide taken down. She addressed the class and reported the incident to the administration. Administration immediately moved into an investigation and response, which has included my involvement with the dean in addressing the class the following day. We are working with the students involved seeking to have the responsible student or students take ownership, accept appropriate consequences, and make amends.
It is hard to express the depth of disappointment and distress I have for this type of incident and the impact it has on our community. While racially offensive language is always intolerable, this year in particular Brookline High students, faculty, and administrators have spent a significant amount of time as a school community looking at and discussing racism, bias, and privilege. Brookline High has made this conversation and our collective learning a priority and a focus of our current and future work.
In addition to being intolerable, this incident was an inappropriate use of technology, which is defined in the Public Schools of Brookline Technology Acceptable Use Policy as, use that is “unsuitable, illegal or destructive, including, but not limited to … using profane, vulgar, threatening, defamatory, abusive, discriminatory, harassing, or otherwise objectionable … language in a public or private message…”
Last week’s incident has been extremely challenging to bring to closure on many levels. Part of our learning as a school going forward is that we will certainly continue our conversation about appropriate use of technology and acceptable forms of communication, but we also need to continue our complex work with students about the power of language and racism and their impact.
~ Harvey Bravman, Publisher