Blog #9 A Culture that Truly Champions Every Student
A Culture that Truly Champions Every Student
I have had some of our parents ask questions or express concerns related to the Pride, BLM or Trump flags being brought to school by some of our students over the past week.
Others have had questions, concerns or opinions shared related to flags or symbols displayed by staff in classrooms.
I put together some key points on these topics that I hope will provide some clarity. I want more than anything to serve our students well.
On Staff Support Symbols and Student Support Symbols:
- We want ALL students to feel valued and supported at WHS by one another, but especially by our staff.
- Students are allotted more freedoms than school personnel when it comes to displaying political and religious symbols of allegiance. That is one of the fundamental cornerstones of school law.
- Currently, we are allowing student support symbols, with the exception of full-body flags-which our staff has reported to be significant classroom distractions and potential safety hazards in the hallways.
- Dr. Kaiser is having discussions with the board, teachers, administrators and students about how to ensure a positive educational learning environment and what that looks like for all kids
- We have allowed students to bring support symbols and have only taken this freedom away from individuals when they have become “significant disruptions to the educational environment”, per the law. We have also addressed and taken away these symbols in situations where they have been used to harass, ridicule or undermine another. While there have been a few situations we have addressed, the majority of students have worn these symbols peacefully and without incident.
- Students are encouraged to express their voice and opinions through their student interest clubs. There are areas of the building we have designated as representing the “student voice.” They are able to express causes, flags, and opinions in those areas. Each club has also been invited to create a poster that displays their club logo and their key events this school year. Teachers may hang these posters in their classrooms as support for our student life at WHS.
Those who have emailed me with concerns that classes are not focused on academics or afraid that there is lack of order in the building--that is simply not the case. We are still very focused on learning and on safety. That said, we continue to monitor hallways daily and communicate with teachers to make sure that there are no “significant disturbances” of which we are unaware. We always encourage students to report to a trusted adult or on our anonymous TIPS line when they see concerning behaviors occur. When we receive these reports, we take them very seriously and are swift and strict with our consequences.
Many of you have expressed your opinions on what should be considered a political symbol versus a symbol that shows support for students who have felt marginalized. When people look at the Pride flag or the BLM flag, some see these symbols as ways that we can show support to our students of color or show that we love and care for the LGBTQ students in our schools. We have spoken with students who have shared that the classroom is a much “safer” space for them with a support symbol present. Others have expressed to me that for them, these flags represent the political platforms that are attached to the flags and see some of the beliefs of the platform that might go against their personal values or beliefs. Some parents and students have expressed to me that these flags should have no place in the educational environment.
The non-negotiable for me as a leader at this school is that I champion ALL students. When students or groups of students feel unsafe, unvalued or when they are harassed or experience racism or actions of bigotry, we must denounce the behaviors and stand in the gap. We also do not want to alienate groups that feel their beliefs are not respected--also a core part of who a person is. We must do all we can to make sure each student here has a voice and value and is comfortable in their own skin at WHS. The tough part is how we do that. Many of you have your viewpoints on what this should look like and ultimately, it is a charge I take very seriously. With my whole being, I believe in the Westfield Way and our Life Ready mission for each and every student.
I am working with my teachers on a sign of support that says “Every Student Welcome.” The letters in the word student represent the different identities and cultures of our student body. The S is a compilation of flags from around the world of the 56 nationalities represented in our school, the T is brown, the U is multi-colored, the D is white, the E is black, the N is the American flag, and the T is our Shamrock colors of green and gold. This sign, which we will display in our classrooms, is void of political affiliation or beliefs. It simply says what is at the hallmark of our ongoing mission at WHS: Every Student is Welcome. We are here to educate, challenge, value, connect with and grow each student that walks in our doors. We meet them where they are and we help equip them with the skills to be successful beyond these doors. That is the beautiful privilege and challenge that is public education.
It is my heartfelt hope that we can come together as a community and be supportive of the mission I outlined above. I think sometimes we are passionate about the issues but we forget we are talking about real people with real stories and experiences. Creating an inclusive school community that truly helps every student become Life Ready and looks out for one another takes all stakeholders. The divisiveness in the community has been really hard on our staff and our students. I know we all want what is best for our kids, but I hope we will do some soul searching and reflection and see how we can practice heartfelt listening, empathy and how we can intentionally celebrate the positive that is still all around us. I know that is my prayer every day--that I will embrace humility, really see my students and their individual needs, support my staff, and then look to make decisions that propel our mission forward.