The following message was sent to BUSD families yesterday, Sept. 28:
I am writing to share with you a statement made by our Board President Ty Alper about a recent incident at Berkeley High involving hateful behaviors on social media. I am appalled, but not surprised, to recognize how much work we still have to do. At the same time, I want you to know that I have a deep belief in the power of our young people to be a part of the solution to the problem. I am meeting with student leaders this week to partner with them in creating a series of courageous conversations and actions that lead to real change.
We can do this, together. I ask you to think about how we can support our students and each other so that we are a community that goes beyond being united against hate, towards the work of making positive, lasting, deep change that reflects respect and love for one another.
Donald Evans, Ed.D
Statement from Board President Ty Alper:
At last night’s Berkeley School Board meeting, we heard from many of our Berkeley High students about the impact of extremely disturbing and offensive material posted by other students on social media.
The Superintendent and Board asked me to share with the community the remarks I made at the meeting.
My remarks are reprinted here:
These are fraught times, locally, nationally, and around the world. I want to say a word about what is happening at Berkeley High right now, with the caution that there are many people, including some students, who know more about the facts than I do sitting here tonight.
But I will say this: There is racism in Berkeley. There is anti-Semitism in Berkeley. There is ableism in Berkeley. There is homophobia in Berkeley. There is discrimination and prejudice and hatefulness of all kinds – in Berkeley.
We can say there is no place for hate in Berkeley. And we can do everything we know how to do to combat it and prevent it. But it is here. We can say there is no place for sexual harassment in our schools. And we can do everything we know how to do to combat it and prevent it. But it’s there. And we have as much of an obligation to support students affected by hate and discrimination and harassment as we do to try to prevent it in the first place.
We often talk about being in a bubble in Berkeley, and of course that is true to some extent. And I love Berkeley. But we’ve got racism and anti-Semitism and homophobia and ableism and prejudice of all kinds here too. That’s not news to many people in this room. Maybe it is to some.
When students go to school afraid of their peers, or knowing that they are thought less of because of the color of their skin, or because of the yarmulke they wear on their head, or because of the gender of the person they are dating, or because of a disability they have – that compromises the learning environment in a way that we have an obligation to address.
And what gives me hope that we can and will address this, and provide the support our students need, is two things: we have incredible, resilient, brilliant, brave students, and we have compassionate, talented, caring, and devoted classified staff, teachers, and administrators.
I could not be more proud of the students at Berkeley High, nor could I be more confident in the adults we have working alongside them.
I want to read from an email that an experienced Berkeley High teacher, Hasmig Minassian, sent the Board tonight and gave us permission to share with you all. She writes:
“Today in my classes, along with many other classes across the school, students had dialogue around the themes of racism, power, privilege, school safety, harm, and healing. They led the way in these conversations about how the legal system is catching up with social media; how justice systems take time in order to be effective and how emotionally taxing that time can be on the people waiting for justice–justice that sometimes never comes; how schools are microcosms of greater society and Berkeley High has a vital role in shaping the direction of that society. Like every institution, we have room for improvement in how we navigate this territory on behalf of our students and staff. We learn daily from the experiences of our young people and build it better, with them. We know we don’t always get it right but today, after a full day with my students, I am here to report that the vital organs of Berkeley High, from my perspective, are strong. Our heads are together, our hearts are clear and we stand united on behalf of our students.”
I will conclude by saying this: There is no playbook for how to deal with a situation like this, no template that anyone has figured out. So I urge us all to be patient with one another, even as we hold each other accountable. This is hard, complicated, uncomfortable stuff. But I do have great faith in the people of this District – students, staff, administrators, and my colleagues on the Board – and I take great comfort in that as we embark on the hard work ahead of us.
School Board President
P.S. Video of the entire meeting, including all comments made, can be accessed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYq3sE8YdNs