Update on Events at JJHS January 2023
January 27, 2023
On January 12, I shared with the community a letter our high school principal, Dr. Siciliano, sent to high school families regarding a swastika found in school that day. Since then, Dr. Siciliano has notified the JJHS community twice more about hateful events – the finding of transphobic phrases written on the wall of a bathroom stall and the discovery of a second partially completed swastika on a classroom desk. In both cases, thoughtful and understandably upset students immediately notified school staff. Dr. Siciliano has since met with students who want to be more involved in the evolution of a school culture towards being truly welcoming and affirming for all. Following consultation with students and staff connected to SAGA (the school’s Sexuality and Gender Alliance), a student had the opportunity to address peers about the harm and exclusion caused by hateful language. And today – Holocaust Remembrance Day – another student had the opportunity to address staff and students through a video he created in response to the swastikas. The school has used its practice of restorative circles to engage all students and staff in conversation and reflection on these events.
Understandably, each time expressions of hate or intolerance appear in our schools, we are asked, why haven’t you stopped it? The saddest and most honest answer is that we haven’t stopped it because hate and intolerance continue to be present in the world, and so long as they are present, there is no safe haven, much as we wish there were. But it’s important that we not lose hope. And it’s important that we remind ourselves that all our efforts towards becoming a more welcoming and affirming environment are not in vain. For each individual who alone commits a cowardly and hateful act (and it only takes one to draw our attention), we are seeing greater numbers step forward to say, “This is not acceptable. What can we do together to make this a kinder, better place for all?”
Just yesterday, our entire administrative team met with a consultant who is supporting our work around diversity, equity, and inclusion. We listed the many steps we have and are taking at all school levels. The following is just a sampling.
In our elementary schools:
Monthly focus on culture and heritage
Increasing awareness of and appreciation for our different identities
Compact teams focused on DEI
Classroom and community readings with a focus on diversity
Civil rights units in 5th grade
At middle school:
A school library focused on celebrating diversity
Integration of Facing History and Ourselves curriculum
Identity mapping at all grades
A team wide read focused on diversity
At high school:
Restorative circles in regular use
An inclusive student leadership model focused on positively influencing school culture
Adjustments in reading titles in the English Department
More celebratory and inclusive events to bring the entire school community together
In response to recent events, Dr. Siciliano has been in touch with GLSEN (the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network) and with local rabbis, to consider additional steps.
We will continue to be motivated by those hurtful and hateful acts to find new ways to educate and new ways to keep one another safe and well. And we will continue to be encouraged by the increasing numbers stepping forward to make a difference, including the many high school students who planned a day of unity at JJHS today, and all who came together in good spirit, with joy, to welcome and celebrate all.
Andrew Selesnick, Superintendent of Schools