Editor’s Note: Superintendent Jon Sills sent the following message to families of students enrolled in Bedford Schools on Tuesday evening, March 11, 2014
I am following up on my email/letter of yesterday for two reasons: first, to clarify a point that I made about parental involvement; and second, to update you on our next steps.
These incidents remind us that anti-semitism and other forms of bias still maintain an unfortunate presence in our society, and Bedford, despite its welcoming tradition, is not impervious to these sentiments and the behaviors they spawn. So while it is not a problem that is particular to Bedford and its public schools, it is a Bedford community and a Bedford Public School problem. The good news is that Bedford has the will and the human resources to deal with it effectively. I believe strongly that when a community is confronted with the challenge of addressing ugly realities, it needs to look to its strengths, and we all must strive to be the best examples we can be of courageous, inclusive, non-judgmental behavior. As it so happens, the first incident involving our elementary aged children 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.
These incidents have brought to the surface other hurtful experiences that some of our Jewish community members have encountered, and, based upon the emails I have received, that other minorities have experienced as well.
Unfortunately, this causes some to relive difficult experiences. But we can honor that pain by coming together openly to oppose intolerance and to take steps to ensure that they do not continue.
I have kept each of the thoughts that parents, in their emails, have shared, and intend I to draw on them as we work our way forward. One seemed particularly important as we consider the ages of some of the children. “We would also suggest a message to the effect that while in some cases, children’s words and deeds may be inspired by hateful adult talk–whether at home, elsewhere outside of school, or simply in the ambient noise of our culture–in many other cases, children are simply being children. Exploring their differences by inventing games, creating clubs, and play-acting is developmentally normal. When such explorations include statements or behaviors that adults know to be insensitive, hurtful, or discriminatory, it’s our job as parents and educators not to condemn or encourage condemnation, but to respond in ways that bring us to reconciliation.”
I’d like to invite any family, student or staff member who is interested in working together to address these issues to join me at a public forum and working meeting in the John Glen Middle School auditorium on March 20 at 7:00PM. After a short introduction updating attendees, we will spend the first part of the session taking comments and suggestions from the audience. We will then break into smaller groups to brainstorm next steps that the schools might take to strengthen our anti-bias culture, as it relates to anti-semitism in particular and to all forms of intolerance in general. In the meantime, the school leadership team has met and is reaching out to organizations like Facing History and Ourselves as well as to local clergy and town/community leaders to both deepen and broaden the impact of this important work.
Bedford Public Schools