WESTFIELD, NJ — School Board President Peggy Oster explained several ways the Westfield Public School District is working to combat hate in its schools, following comments made at the Oct. 29 school board meeting that the district was not doing enough.
“I wanted to follow up on the concern of a resident who spoke at our last meeting,” Oster said during the school board meeting Tuesday night. “She basically said the district is not doing enough to address expressions of hate on school property.
“The resident said that using morning announcements to speak to the issue is not enough, and we do agree. However, that is one of many ongoing steps that the district takes to combat acts of hate.”
Oster discussed several district initiatives, including curriculum and assemblies, to educate students about the consequences of spreading hateful messages.
“For years, as required by law, the district has provided an age-appropriate program in K-12 curriculum that includes instruction in the Holocaust and genocide,” she said. “The district also has supplemented that curriculum with powerful presentations by Holocaust survivors and their children, along with assemblies and other opportunities to explore race and cultural diversity.”
These assemblies, Oster said, are designed in coordination with the Anti-Defamation League’s program ‘No Place for Hate.’ The district’s high school and two intermediate schools were accepted into the program this year.
“Working with the ADL, our high school and intermediate school administrators have scheduled additional educational opportunities to reinforce the message that hate has no place in our schools or in our community,” she said. “This includes an assembly at the high school planned months ago with a 30-year veteran of law enforcement who will talk about bias, prejudice and stereotypes. High school social studies teachers will then facilitate a discussion about the assembly in their classrooms.”
Overall, Oster said, the district is committed to holding students accountable for expressing hateful messages.
“The district makes it clear to our students that expressions of hate will be investigated and dealt with by local law enforcement,” she said. “We continue to ask students and their parents to follow the public awareness campaign of ‘see something say something’ to report any acts of hate immediately to a building supervisor.”
“We do take this seriously,” she added. “It’s not just about reacting to one incident. It’s all-encompassing in our curriculum, and in our daily activity and our daily work with the students. And it’s planned long before a terrible act of vandalism occurs.”
Oster’s statement comes following comments made by Westfield resident and parent Kerri Oligino, who spoke about the presence of hateful graffiti in the high school restrooms during the school board meeting Oct. 29.
“I’d like to know more about what the high school is going to be doing about hate speech and following up on Friday and the swastika and all of that being discussed,” Oligino said at the Oct. 29 meeting. “I don’t think that something being said in the morning announcements is sufficient to address it with the students.”
Oligino spoke on this matter during Tuesday night’s meeting as well, thanking the district for responding to her previous complaint.
“The reality is that there’s racism in our schools, because our kids don’t know how to talk about it,” Oligino said. “I’m glad that the n-word was scrubbed off the bathrooms in the high school after I was here two weeks ago.”
“When parents have that attitude, ‘not my kid,’ it’s unacceptable,” she added. “We need to make sure that we’re not saying ‘not my school.’”