Diversity Update: An Open Letter to Bedford Families from Superintendent Jon Sills

Superintendent Jon Sills - Image (c) Bedford Tv
Superintendent Jon Sills – Image (c) Bedford Tv

Dear Bedford Families,

On Thursday evening [March 20] , approximately 300 people attended a public forum regarding the anti-Semitic incidents that have occurred at several of our Bedford schools during the fall and then again during the past month.

Mostly residents and a significant number of school personnel, the attendees were joined by Senator Barrett, Representative Gordon, the assistant District Attorney, Town Manager Rick Reed, several Selectmen and School Committee members, six or seven clergy from Bedford’s Interfaith Council, our four school principals, assistant principals, PTA officers and several students.  The Interfaith Council spokespeople inspired the audience with their Love Your Neighbor Campaign and a number of residents shared their stories and concerns with the whole group.  After, approximately 45 individuals stayed on to participate in small-group brainstorming sessions until nearly 10:00PM and generated a number of thoughtful ideas for further action.

Some of these ideas include:
* an annual townwide multicultural festival
* providing resources and even trainings for parents interested in learning about different ways of talking with thier children about anti-semitism, religious differences, racism, etc.
* a comparative religions course in our schools
* taking up the Love Your Neighbor campaign with bumper stickers, talking points in the schools and with congregations
* publishing a calendar of the many and varied cultural and religious observations

We have scheduled two follow-up meetings,

  • April 2 at 7:00PM in the high school Large Group Instruction room, and
  • April 10 at 4:00PM at Town Hall

for anyone who is interested in turning suggestions like those listed above into actual programs and practices.  We would like to create a working committee that is committed to opposing anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance and to promoting acceptance and an appreciation for diversity.  The committee will include town personnel, community members and school personnel, and with some encouragement, students.  If you intend to attend, please RSVP by emailing [email protected] so we can better structure the meeting.

Our sense of urgency around this important work is heightened by the discovery of posters promoting Christian symbols that were put up in several of the high school corridors yesterday.  While the pairing of a cross with the letters BHS could very well be benign at some other time, it is unlikely that their appearance yesterday was  coincidental.

Principal Turner addressed the school this morning and, while upholding individuals’ rights to free speech and to promoting pride in one’s culture or religion, he made clear in no uncertain terms that their clandestine appearance and the implication that BHS should be associated with a particular religious symbol are inappropriate and unacceptable.  At the same time, an ipad was found with a text messaged swastika.  The school administration has successfully identified the student source and a combination of school sanctions and restorative justice measures are in the works.  What we have learned so far is that a group of boys, engaged in a game with another group of boys, created a symbol that combined a fish and a swastika as their group emblem.  The school will involve the boys’ parents in our plans for addressing this behavior, and with restorative justice, the offender(s) must engage in repair work with the community and/or the victims of their actions.

The police and schools are collaborating closely. Chief Bongiorno and Lt. Scott Jones of the Bedford Police Department, Town Manager Rick Reed, Principal Henry Turner and I have begun meeting on a regular basis to coordinate, and we were recently joined by Marion Ryan of the DA’s office, to coordinate our efforts.

These incidents are extremely troubling.  They reveal at best a level of ignorance and insensitivity that is alarming, and at worst, the cowardly acts of a few individuals. Either way, they create a climate of anxiety, anger and fear that demands a concerted response from all open-minded and open-hearted people in our schools and community.  While every community is bound to have a few purveyors of hate and bigotry, their power is diminished when the community makes it clear that it won’t tolerate such behavior.  Thursday night was a great beginning, but we clearly have a lot more work to do.


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