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The San Jose Mercury News op-ed by Karen Sakata: How schools deal with discrimination and hate speech


Last week, the Bay Area News Group News published an op-ed by Contra Costa County Superintendent of Schools Karen Sakata on how Contra Costa county schools deal with discrimination and hate speech.

Below is an excerpt of the article:

“Incidents of intolerance are on the rise and, unfortunately, the hatred expressed in our communities following the 2016 presidential election is also showing up in our schools. In Contra Costa County, some schools have been defaced by racist graffiti, and students have experienced anti-Semitic and other types of hate speech and actions.

The decision to suspend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has also traumatized many students, who are concerned about their parents being pulled from the safety of their own homes. Many students are scared to go to school, and many are scared about what’s going to happen to their families.

As Contra Costa County superintendent of schools, I know that our schools are dealing with racial discrimination and hateful speech head on. We have no time to lose if we believe — as I deeply do — that when kids walk through our school doors they deserve a safe environment.

This isn’t a political statement; it’s a promise to our students. We’re telling them, “Whatever your background, you’re welcome here.”

That’s why we’ve created a year-long initiative called “Allies & Advocates,” which features actions and strategies for schools that focus on equity and inclusion. As part of this initiative, we’ve launched a series of four Equity Leadership Retreats to help school leaders define and evaluate their roles and beliefs. We’re discussing race, teaching practices, the language we use in our quest for social justice and how to fight unconscious bias.

We also recently screened the film “And Then They Came for Us,” the story of Japanese Americans forced into incarceration during World War II. Victims of cruel prejudice themselves, they speak out strongly against any Muslim registry and travel ban proposals. About 350 students and community members attended the event. A panel discussion after the screening at a local high school featured the film’s director and several people interviewed for the film.

“And Then They Came for Us” is powerful because it brings a historical perspective to current divisive issues, such as the anti-Muslim atmosphere. Its meaning is clear: We don’t want history to repeat itself.

To help all of us better understand what’s at stake, we’ve also created a resource we call All Kids Are Our Kids: A Post-Election Toolkit for Educators. This toolkit is designed to communicate a message of compassion and support to students so they know they’re safe and can continue to learn, lead and achieve.
It contains dozens of resources, such as state and local policy statements (including local school board resolutions), strategies for supporting students and families, tips for improving school safety and climate, sample letters, legal resources and more.

All of our county’s school districts are actively involved in their own efforts to confront hate, including many declaring their schools as safe havens for all students.
It’s critical that we firmly and passionately state what we stand for. We are striving to be an example of an educational institution committed to welcoming all kids who come through our doors seeking a good education and a brighter future.

We must stand for all kids.

The recent incidents of hate speech have provided us with an opportunity to teach tolerance, stand up against hatred and bigotry, and show our strong support for kids who are being teased or bullied.

We care about how kids treat one another. This is a safety issue and a quality of life issue. This is the right thing to do. Everyone needs and deserves safe schools.”


Read the article in full here.

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