School district takes stand against intolerance

School board to draft resolution against bias incidents

Posted 9/17/17

Bias and prejudice have no place in Littleton Public Schools, the district's board of education asserted at its Sept. 14 meeting.

After a rocky start to the school year in which two LPS students died by suicide, officials reiterated the …

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School district takes stand against intolerance

School board to draft resolution against bias incidents

Posted

Bias and prejudice have no place in Littleton Public Schools, the district's board of education asserted at its Sept. 14 meeting.

After a rocky start to the school year in which two LPS students died by suicide, officials reiterated the district's commitment to fighting bullying and hate incidents, specifically as they relate to marginalized identities. Officials also made plans to draft a resolution affirming their condemnation of bias incidents.

In a letter sent out to LPS parents the morning after the meeting, Superintendent Brian Ewert emphasized the district's achievement goals apply to every student.

“All students — regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, disability, twice exceptionality; students who are gifted, immigrants, English language learners, LGBTQ, homeless, poor, affluent; and those who may have social, emotional, behavioral, or academic challenges — matter,” the letter reads in part. “All students are welcome in our schools.”

Ewert said he's already aware of several bias incidents in the month-old school year, which prompted him to bring up the topic and invite input from the board.

Among the incidents Ewert cited: a white student surreptitiously inserted a slur into a black student's PowerPoint presentation, an elementary student told a fellow student of Indian descent to “go wash their skin,” a middle school student who repeatedly shouted racial slurs at another, and instances of hate symbols like swastikas drawn in yearbooks and on the ground at a track meet.

“It's so disheartening to know these types of things are happening in our community,” school board vice president Carrie Warren-Gully said. “It tears at your heart. Students don't learn this conversation within their own minds. They're hearing it somewhere. Either the national dialogue, or worse, in our own community. That's why it's important to keep partnering with our own community.”

In some cases, students involved may not have grasped the gravity of their actions, Ewert's letter said, though he said each incident is taken seriously and dealt with through a range of interventions, including disciplinary actions and restorative-justice approaches.

Part of the process of addressing bias incidents is education, said school board member Robert Reichardt.

“We live in interesting times, and part of those interesting times is about learning and acknowledging the privilege some groups have, including me,” Reichardt said. “We need to be aware of challenges that other groups face that we may not have been aware of when we were young.”

Confronting bias incidents must start with confronting the bias within, said school board member Jim Stephens.

“If you don't want to be bullied, start by not being a bully,” Stephens said. “If you don't want to be racially oppressed, start by rejecting your own racial biases. If you don't want to be subject to intolerance, start by tolerating all others you meet. Let us all across this community redouble our efforts to identify and eradicate harassment and intolerance when we see them. Let's be clear on why, because they are logically, morally, and ethically wrong.”

The district has policies in place asserting a commitment to providing a safe learning environment for all students, said school board president Jack Reutzel, though he said he would still like to see the board affirm its stance in a resolution.

Teachers would benefit from such an affirmation, said Amanda Crosby, a social studies teacher at Arapahoe High school and president of the Littleton Education Association.

“It's easier to do the work on this topic when the superintendent and school board take a strong stand,” Crosby said. “You want to give everyone a chance to express themselves, but there's a point where that crosses a line and it doesn't make students comfortable in that environment. It's hard to say that in a classroom when you've told students every opinion matters, but when teachers' representatives take a stand publicly, that makes it so much easier to take action and not feel afraid for your job.”

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