Update: District Stand on Hate

Update: District Stand on Hate
Image: District Logo

November 14, 2018

Dear Members of the Pascack Valley Community,

On November 6, I wrote a letter noting the investigation of swastikas found at the Pascack Valley High School.  This letter serves as a complete follow-up, providing information on recent events, our district’s stand, our efforts to move forward, and resources to help have important conversations about respect.

Recent Events

Unfortunately, in the last 36 hours, I was made aware of inappropriate graffiti found on the wall of a baseball dugout as well as in a boys bathroom at Pascack Valley High School.  While this latest discovery did not include swastikas, it was blatantly offensive and hateful in nature. We have removed the graffiti to prevent exposure to these messages of intolerance, and the Hillsdale Police Department is actively investigating how long the graffiti had been there while trying to determine who is responsible.  

District Stand

I want to be crystal clear on where the district stands:

  • Symbols of hate, offensive graffiti, and other demonstrations of intolerance have no place in our district and will not be tolerated.  
  • Such acts are NOT considered freedom of speech - they are hate crimes.
  • If anyone is the victim of intolerant speech or sees symbols promoting hate, please report what you heard/saw to administration immediately.
  • Perpetrators of hate crimes will face significant consequences from both law enforcement and the school district.  

Moving Forward

Yesterday, members of our administrative team met with the Pascack Valley Clergy Council to discuss the hate crimes that have taken place, our investigation into the current matters, and how we plan to move forward.  The Pascack Valley Clergy Council, comprised of the religious leaders from the greater Pascack Valley area, asked questions, shared their perspectives, and offered outstanding suggestions on how our entire community can learn from these actions.  Our goal in working together is to educate the community on the importance of respecting and embracing our differences.

In the short term, Principal DeMaio is working with student leaders to organize a school-wide activity.  This activity will take place in the upcoming days so that the students’ voice can be heard and the entire school community can demonstrate that hate has no place in our district or community.   Longer term, Dr. Bachenheimer, director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment for the district, is working in conjunction with the Anti-Defamation League and other experts to enhance our existing educational programming for students.  

We cannot promote a culture of mutual respect in our schools alone.  Teaching students caring, compassion, and respect involves everyone: students, families, faculty, staff, civic leaders, and religious leaders.  To this end the district will provide opportunities for parents to share their concerns and learn strategies to engage in conversations promoting these essential values.

Resources to Help

Caring, compassion, and respect will prevail throughout our community if every single one of us takes on that responsibility.  Even if you have full confidence these recent incidents do not involve you, your group of friends, your children, your home, or your classroom, I am personally asking each of you to join us in continuing these essential conversations about respect.  

We offer the following suggestions to help you engage in these difficult conversations:

  • Contact our Wellness Center staff.  Our trained professionals can work with you on addressing this difficult topic and connect you with appropriate support services.
  • Speak with a religious leader.  Those who are members of a faith community are encouraged to speak with their respective religious leaders about this difficult topic.
  • Leverage the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).  The ADL has online resources, including this particular article, that can help families have productive conversations.

I will continue to keep our community abreast of our upcoming programs and I welcome you to contact me directly with any concerns.

Sincerely,

Image: Erik Gundersen signature

P. Erik Gundersen
Superintendent of Schools
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