Editor’s Note: The following message is an update to the letter that Superintendent Sills sent to all parents of children enrolled in Bedford schools on Monday, March 10, 2014. The update was received from Superintendent Sills on March 11, 2014.
I feel privileged to work in a community that takes such pride in its diversity, that has welcomed newcomers with open arms, and that stands for tolerance and equal treatment. Bedford’s historic support of the students from Hanscom Air Force Base and METCO have created a strong foundation for integrating its own increasing ethnic, racial and socioeconomic diversity. These are our schools’ core values as well and our faculty and staff members strive to live them to the fullest at all times. Making sure that every child feels supported to take intellectual risks and to be him or herself however requires deliberate attention, and any school system worth its salt sees this as an ongoing focus of its work. This Friday’s professional development focus is the creation of culturally proficient classrooms, a term we use to describe learning environments in which diversity flourishes and all kids feel psychologically safe and encouraged.
Unfortunately, however, this year has witnessed multiple examples of intolerant and hateful behaviors, specifically in the form of anti-semitic graffiti – swastikas and “Kill the Jews.” Following the graffiti incidents, school, clergy, town and community leaders met to share information and discuss appropriate responses, we researched organizations that engage in anti-discrimination work and we began a working relationship with Facing History and Ourselves, an educational organization that addresses anti-semitism and racism. Principal Turner at the high school invited students and faculty members to meet to generate appropriate responses and he spoke to the entire school about the issue on several occasions. Some of the Jewish students who met described some of the difficulties that they have experienced growing up as a Jewish minority in Bedford.
Then, over the past several weeks, we learned of several incidents involving some of our youngest students at Lane and Davis School. Some children played a game that had anti-Semitic content, another talked about destroying a peer’s country because she was Jewish, a third involved withholding a snack because the friend didn’t believe in Jesus Christ, and a fourth involved the accusation that Jews had killed Jesus Christ. The first incident came to our attention because the parents of one of the children playing the game called the school to alert it to what their child had reported. Their courage and commitment to the kind and respectful treatment of others is responsible for raising our awareness around this important issue.
Historically, hatred has always represented latent violence. Whether physical or emotional, its expression wounds not only its targets but threatens to rend the fragile fabric of community. Coming from the mouths of six and seven year olds, who may not even fully understand their meaning, clearly these words echo adult conversations that are overheard. While expressed at school, and precipitating a series of school-based responses, such hate speech is a community problem, and as such calls for the reconvening of our school-community coalition of concerned individuals.
Speaking for the schools, I welcome your input and will advertise the time and place for the next meeting. I believe that broader the response, the less likely the perpetrators of hate speech will feel that their behavior is permissible, and that Bedford’s proud claim of being a community that refuses to tolerate hate will be imbued with renewed meaning.
Bedford Public Schools