On Sunday, June 26, there was a political protest in Sacramento that became violent, and we subsequently learned that one of the people involved in the situation is a teacher at King Middle School. Since then, we have received multiple communications expressing concern about this incident, including an anonymous email that threatened that if the teacher in question were not fired within the week, the letter writer would come to King with the intent to harm our students. Even though school is not in session, it is important for the community to know about the situation, and know our response to the appalling threat made to the safety of children.
The FBI has reviewed the email, and by their criteria considered it to be a low level threat. However, the Berkeley Police and the District are taking the threat seriously; we have increased police patrols and security, and we have relocated two summer school camps that rent our facilities during the summer. We are grateful to Principal Janet Levenson for dealing immediately and thoughtfully with the situation, and to District staff for finding alternative space for summer camps.
If you discuss this occurrence with children, we encourage you to be honest with them, but not to say more than they can handle or need to know. They need to know that they are safe, and that we adults are going to take care of them.
We have also been fielding messages asking whether the teacher in question will be fired for her political activities. As a public school district, we must comply with the U.S. and California Constitutions, and follow relevant state law and the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement related to employment. Although there are protections for our employees, we also want to be clear that they must comply with Board policies with respect to classroom discussions of controversial topics. We cannot comment further on the specifics of the personnel matter, as employee disciplinary matters are confidential.
It is important to state that we do not support the use of violence in confronting speech. We want our students to learn critical thinking skills and be able to engage in thoughtful and informed debate. While we may find beliefs espoused by racist and anti-immigrant organizations to be abhorrent, there are productive ways to respond to hate speech that do not involve violence.
In this disturbing time of national and international expressions of intolerance, we return to the words of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for whom King Middle School is named:
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Donald Evans, Ed.D., Superintendent
Beatriz Levya-Cutler, School Board President