Letter submitted to our Hingham Public Schools school administration and School Committee members. This letter was the product of a special meeting last week of members of our Racial Equity Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee, Schools and Education Committee and the HUC Board.
Dear School Leaders,
We were deeply distressed to learn of the recent increase in bias incidents in our district, including the racist and ableist social media threat posted by a Hingham High student earlier this week. While we appreciate acting Superintendent Maestas’ public acknowledgement of the incidents, we need more than words. We recognize the schools do not bear full responsibility for the actions of our students, but until ALL of our students feel safe in our schools, our community is failing in our duty to provide them with the basic right to education they are entitled to. You cannot focus and learn if you do not feel safe and supported.
We would like to request that the Hingham Public Schools commit to the following actions and, in particular, an associated timeline for completion:
Policy. Every athlete in Hingham knows that if they get caught drinking or at a party where alcohol is being served they could lose 25% of their athletic season and their leadership positions. Yet our district policies around bias incidents remain shrouded in mystery. While we understand that privacy laws prevent victims or the public from knowing the specific details of a punishment, the general consequences for these actions should be as clear as they are for other infractions. If our school leaders developed policies using a transparent, well-publicized review and discussion process, incidents would likely decrease and victims and their families would have some satisfaction regarding the appropriateness of consequences, even without specific details. The School Committee undertook a review of our district’s bias policies, but to date we have not received any updated information. We request the status of this work, when it will be complete, and we’d like to request that meaningful efforts be made to include the community in the process.
Education. This moment presents a prime teaching opportunity. Fear and ignorance were certainly a component of these incidents. What can our schools do in the immediate future (i.e., this month) to open up conversation and education around bias, equity, and diversity? Could we consider, for example, an in-school listening or sharing session, facilitated by a third party organization, where students share experiences and questions in small groups?
Strong Leadership. Have the principals of the relevant schools made public statements of support to their students, particularly their students of color, those with disabilities, and other marginalized students, letting them know that they are supported by leadership? Have the teachers been debriefed on these incidents? If we want this behavior to stop and students to feel supported, it has to start at the top.
Transparency. With respect to the most recent incident, the family was unaware a post had been made threatening their child until their son, also a student at Hingham High School, informed them. By that time, the student offender and her parent had already met with school officials. Why was the family of the victim not called immediately, informed of this incident, and assured it was being addressed? This is not the first time we have heard of a child being victimized and the parents hearing third hand rather than directly from school administration.
Restorative Justice. We are aware the district Equity and Inclusion Working Group is developing an approach to restorative justice now and we applaud those efforts and look forward to seeing this in place soon. Is there a timeframe for when this approach will be introduced to the HPS community?
We hope that you, like us, view this as an opportunity to take meaningful action and demonstrate that our schools will not tolerate this type of behavior. As we heard from more than one Metco alumnus at the HUC-sponsored round table in November 2020, intolerance is not new to Hingham Public Schools – but the community’s willingness to turn a blind eye to it is over. It’s time to take some real action.
The Hingham Unity Council