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News Reports Regarding a Racist Video Circulated within LHS Community Last December, 2019

Posted by L Michelle on February 10, 2020

Dear ISD Community,

You may have seen reports in the news media regarding a racist video circulated last December in the Liberty High School Community. The news reports discuss the video and subsequent disciplinary actions. Clearly, the speech does not reflect our District values. Please understand that public school districts are prohibited by law from publicly disclosing specific disciplinary actions, including whether a particular student may have been disciplined. With this understanding, we want to share with you what we shared with the media on Monday, January 27 as well as a follow up inquiries from the Seattle Times on Wednesday, January 30 and February 10.

January 27, 2020 - To Several Media Outlets

Hate speech is an area that is very challenging for public schools. Students retain their civil rights at school while, at the same time, all students have a right to a free and appropriate public education.  When considering possible disciplinary action due to hate speech, administrators have to look at the specifics of the incident, including whether a student’s or students’ ability to access education has been impacted.  In every case, we gather as many facts as we can. 

Here are some of the questions we ask when we investigate:

  • When did this occur?  Was it recent or not?
  • Was a specific student (or students) targeted by the speech?  If so, it could fall under our Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying (HIB) regulations 3207 and 3207P.
  • Where did it occur?  Was it on or off campus?  Was it related to a school event?  Is there a nexus to the school?  If so, school sanctions can apply.
  • What kind of disruption did it cause and to whom?  If the disruption is substantial, school sanctions can apply.
  • Do athletic sanctions apply per our athletic handbook?

Removing a student from school is not a small action. Under the new disciplinary laws it is not meant to be a first step unless a student is engaging in the types of extreme, dangerous, or criminal behaviors set forth in the law. The new disciplinary laws also require us to try other interventions before putting a student out of school on a short-term suspension. We also provide education along with any discipline to students who violate our expectations.  Our updated rules with regard to applying school sanctions are contained in our regulations 3241 and 3241P. These limitations can be difficult because we know that our students of color are highly impacted and experience hate speech as extreme. 

In addition, because we cannot, by law, share the specifics of any discipline that we issue to any person who is not the student’s legal parent or guardian, this often leaves community members unsatisfied as they naturally want to know what happened.

Our sincere hope and what we are working toward is to create a school culture where this kind of hate speech does not occur. In order to help make expectations clear to our students, we added new equitable conduct language in our student handbooks (see page 9) this school year. The District has invested in continuous professional development and is making changes to curriculum including lessons on micro-aggressions, privilege and intent vs. impact. Much of our equity work is not funded by state basic education dollars, so we do get help from PTSAs, Issaquah Schools Foundation, and levy dollars to sponsor learning opportunities for parents and students.

A high value is put on student voice. At the school level, schools are creating clubs that provide create a space and forum for students of color to have a voice and a sense of belonging at school and actively seeking student input to identify more ways we can support them daily as well as after incidents occur. Last spring, Dr. Caprice Hollins from Cultures Connecting facilitated listening sessions with our School Board for students, parents, and staff members of color to share their experiences with us. Successes, barriers, and suggestions were discussed to inform the Board regarding future equity work and setting goals around family engagement, equitable access, curriculum development, and recruitment and retention of diverse staff. We have a lot of work to do, but we are engaged and putting in every effort to make our schools a safe and welcoming place for all students.

January 30, 2020 - To Seattle Times Reporter Dahlia Bazzaz

The ISD did have meetings with the NAACP last spring, but we have found the most direct support from Cultures Connecting – an organization that has a lot of experience working with school districts. Cultures Connecting has been providing most of our staff professional development, trainings with students in our schools, information nights for parents, and overall development of supports for students, staff, and families.

To answer your specific questions:

What avenues can parents take, and where should they report, if they feel the school has been made an unsafe environment because of racist speech?

Parents are encouraged to report it to a teacher, school administrator, an Executive Director, or to use the Report Unsafe Behavior link we have on every school website.

What about for victims of racist bullying?

HIB policies prohibit bullying in any form. Students and families can report bullying through the same avenues as feeling unsafe at school due to racist speech mentioned above.

What is a school sanction?

Sanction is another term for disciplinary action from the range of disciplines outlined in the student handbook, athletic handbook, and District policies.

What kind of education is provided to students who are disciplined for racist speech?

Regarding education after an incident, it is similar to our prevention education and includes lessons that help students understand “intent versus impact” and micro-aggressions. Additionally, education is given to students specific to the offense that occurred, so that might look like teaching a student the history of racial slurs and helping them understand how those impact students of color.

The District has crisis response plans for incidents that impact students, such as when we have a death of a student or staff member. We are now working on a similar response plan specific to incidents involving race. We are also working with a company called Cyborg Mobile to develop online Equity and Diversity trainings that we can provide to staff as well as students.

We hope this provides you what you need for your story and to help your readers understand the work we do at ALL schools to respond to and support students when these incredibly hurtful incidents occur. Sadly, racism is still with us in today’s society and so we still find it in our schools.

February 10, 2020 - To the Seattle Times follow request for additional information

Following the circulating of the video in the Liberty High School community, the principal visited every English classroom to talk with students about the incident and reinforce the equitable conduct expectations and the pledge students take to abide by that code of conduct. (Please see earlier email for a link. This important addition to the student handbook is discussed at all of our schools and students sign it – it is a school wide, district wide communication with students.) The Cultures Connecting assemblies and trainings we mentioned in previous emails were given to the entire student body. Liberty also offered an evening Parent Ed event for families. Attendance for students at these trainings is mandatory, but we can only encourage and advertise these learning opportunities to parents who may or may not choose to attend.

At Issaquah High, a forum has been created for students of color to meet directly with teachers to talk about their experiences to inform culturally responsive instruction. These teachers not only listen to what the students share, but reflect on what they’ve heard with their peers. The Issaquah High ASB has a CARE club for students to discuss issues for people of color in the community and they meet on Tuesday afternoons each week. These students developed activities for the school’s MLK celebrations including a privilege walk.

While our Equity policy makes clear the expectations we have of all staff when it comes to addressing racist speech—whether it is overt or in the form of a micro-aggression—we recognize that we have people on our staff who are uncomfortable talking about or addressing racist behavior. After all, this is not a topic covered when teachers are earning their teaching degrees. Therefore, professional development is incredibly important so that our teachers and administrators are equipped with the tools to address racist behavior. We are extending this learning to our classified staff as well. Secretaries, bus drivers, custodians, cooks, and paraeducators all have a role to play in creating a safe learning environment and also need tools to be able to step in when incidents involving racism are observed.

Dahlia, I hope this adds a level of detail that helps you understand that becoming more culturally competent is a part of our daily lives here in the Issaquah School District.  As a District, we are working to nurture, support and grow our kids of color so that they are safe and successful in all that they aspire to do. To do so requires us as a system to challenge the notion of privilege in our community and help people (staff, students, and parents) on their own journey toward understanding their privilege and racial identity. It is important and challenging work that will require ongoing effort.