8:48 p.m. PST December 14, 2016
Dozens of parents, students and educators are calling on the Salem-Keizer School District to protect students from discrimination.
Tuesday evening, 17 people gave testimony to a packed district school board meeting about alleged harassment and bullying occurring in local schools, arguing it has increased since Donald Trump was elected President.
“One day after the election my son and a friend were walking to the bus when a car with a confederate flag drove up beside them and shouted, ‘Go back to your country,'” said Yadira Juarez, a parent of three Salem-Keizer students.
“What do you do when you can’t protect your own son?”
The testimonies were in response to Superintendent Christy Perry’s new board policy draft, titled “Safe and Welcome Schools.”
The policy is in addition to the statement the district released in November that instructed staff to remain neutral, but have conversations and support inclusion as the students processed the election results.
While the board will not take action on the potential policy until January, public input was welcomed.
Testimony favored the district taking bold, public action to ensure the safety of all students — particularly protecting marginalized students, including students of color, immigrant, Muslim and LGBTQ students.
While the policy draft presented by Perry called for district staff to be “diligent in recognizing and addressing any form of discrimination, harassment or bullying behavior,” many who gave testimony felt more needed to be done and additional language and action needed to be considered by the board.
One proposed action was for the district to create safe spaces for especially vulnerable students; another was for the district to have an additional process in place to record hate crimes in order to hold students and administration accountable; and it was also requested the district specify language in the policy for immigrant students so they cannot be deported while in the district’s care.
In the two weeks following the election, there were almost 900 reports of harassment and intimidation from across the nation, with more than 30 happening in Oregon, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“These acts of hatred create an environment of fear where students have to focus on their safety rather than their studies,” said Samantha Hughes, a former Salem-Keizer student and current district employee. “The simple act of speaking up is invaluable.”
Parents, teachers and others testified about increased incidents of discrimination at the Salem-Keizer School Board meeting Tuesday, Dec. 13. CCTV
“History is happening; you guys have a chance to make a statement,” said Ryan Somerville, a teacher in the district. “I stand with the folks here tonight and if you guys make a stance, I’ll stand with you also.”
There was no direct response to public testimony, though the audience was able to stay after the regular meeting to listen to members discuss the policy in a work session.
There seemed to be agreement among board members that the district should take a stance to support students, and prevent and address discrimination. However, board members differed in how that should be done on the institutional level.
During the work session, Jim Green, executive director of the Oregon School Boards Association, argued a board policy was not the best way to address the issues.
“We need to assure that we do have safe and welcoming schools for them,” he said. “I believe doing this is important, but do it in a different way.”
While Green suggested writing a resolution, rather than a policy, other board members said it could be an addition to the existing executive limitations, placing the responsibility primarily on the shoulders of Perry.
The policy follows the statement the district released in November that instructed staff to remain neutral, but have conversations and support inclusion as the students processed the election results. CCTV
The next board meeting is scheduled for Jan. 10, at 6 p.m. at the Support Services Center, 2575 Commercial Street SE.
For more information, go to www.salkeiz.k12.or.us/schoolboard or call 503-399-3001.