Board policy against hate-motivated behavior amended

In light of Pittsburgh shooting, hate crimes live on

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On October 27, Robert Bowers walked into The Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, with an AR-15 style assault rifle shouting “All Jews must die.” According to multiple news sources, 11 people were killed and many others injured.

“The assault on the synagogue unfolded on a quiet, drizzly morning, and came amid a bitter, vitriolic midterm election season and against the backdrop of what appears to be a surge in hate-related speech and crimes across America,” the New York Times wrote in a recent article. “It also took place in the wake of the arrest Friday morning of a man who the authorities said sent more than a dozen pipe bombs to critics of Mr. Trump, including several high-profile Democrats.”

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported that anti-Semitic incidents in the United States occurred at rates nearly 60 percent higher in 2017 than 2016.

According to Superintendent Tony Knight, the ADL named the Oak Park Unified School District a “no place for hate school” a couple years ago when a representative came to speak at Oak Park High School.

“It’s really a place for everybody to be where everybody is — not just accepted or tolerated, but appreciated,” Knight said. “We appreciate each other for who we are and who we’ve come to be.”

To address hate on school campuses, the Oak Park Board of Education voted to amend their 5149.5 policy against hate-motivated behavior Sept. 17 after the California School Board Association altered state policy through the Education Code.

Those amendments include defining hate-motivated behavior as “discrimination, harassment, intimidation, bullying, and other behavior motivated by a person’s hostility towards another person’s real or perceived ethnicity, national origin, immigrant status, sex, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, age, disability, or any other physical or cultural characteristic.”

“In regard to the policy at hand, OPUSD is ‘ahead of the game,’” Oak Park board clerk Barbara Laifman wrote to the Talon. “We have programs at each of our school sites which address hate-motivated behavior, as well as avenues for students and staff to follow when an issue arises.”

The policy’s amendments allow for an expansion in prevention and educational programs to address hate-motivated behavior in schools and around the community. Currently, the high school has programs like Safe School Ambassadors and Advanced Peer Counseling, Medea Creek Middle School has the “Where Everybody Belongs” project and elementary schools have the “Character Counts” program.

“I think we can either view our district as a microcosm of the larger world, or as a model for the larger world, and I hope to think that we are setting an exemplary example when it comes to the care that we give to each other in OPUSD,” Laifman wrote.

Knight said that consequences for hate-motivated behavior include suspension or expulsion, reporting the incident to the sheriff’s department and/or visiting the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

“Sometimes people get angry and they might say something that could be racially-motivated, so it sounds like it’s racially-motivated, but they’re just really angry. If they call someone a name related on their race, all of a sudden it becomes a hate-motivated incident,” Knight said. “We take a very tough stand on it, so if people make that mistake, it’s going to be very unfortunate for them because it’s not allowed, it’s not acceptable and we have a very low tolerance for it at Oak Park.”

While student conduct is more closely monitored now than ever before in schools, staff and administration is also offered additional training to address discriminatory behavior. Laifman wrote that the new amendments are part of “an ongoing focus in the climate of care in OPUSD.”

“We are a school, so this is where people learn a lot of different things about life. But we also live in a society today where it’s not always easy to learn about these things because you hear things from various people in the news and the way we speak,” Knight said. “Some students may think that they have license to say certain things against other people because of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, language, the list goes on and on — we have all kinds of people in our schools.”

The policy allows for the use of uniform complaint procedures when behavior is determined to be based on unlawful discrimination. According to Knight, students can self-report hate incidents if they feel victimized.

“What’s important to me as your superintendent is that every single student in the school district feels 100 percent comfortable being here, and that can’t happen if even one of the students is being derogative or rolling their eyes or making some kind of an action against any other student,” Knight said.

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About the Writer
Olivia Buccieri, Editor-in-Chief

Olivia Buccieri is a senior at Oak Park High School. She is currently the Editor-in-Chief of the Oak Park Talon. She served as a senior staff writer her...

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