Message from the superintendent regarding hate speech incidents

November 6, 2018

Dear OPRF High School Families,

Thank you for your understanding today as we worked through responding to the incidents of additional hate-speech graffiti found on campus. We know many of you have been anxiously awaiting further details, and we hope the following information is helpful.

Addressing the incidents
We want to assure you that we take any incident of hate speech or hate crime on campus with the utmost seriousness. We immediately reported these incidents to the police and launched our own investigations. We have security cameras inside and outside the building and are reviewing hours of footage to try to identify the perpetrators.

Please understand that due to privacy laws and in order not to impede the police investigation, the district cannot provide details about such internal investigations. Whether the persons involved are staff or students, we cannot identify anyone who committed or may have committed racist or other hateful acts, nor can we share any disciplinary consequences that may result. We know that you are seeking more information and that this may be very frustrating. Please know: We are taking immediate action--every single time this happens.

Today’s student assembly
Given the level of anxiety our students, staff, and families are experiencing, we felt we needed to address the most recent incidents of hate-filled graffiti with urgency. Our crisis team swiftly gathered and decided to hold an all-student assembly. Because the auditorium can hold only half the student body at one time, we ran the assembly twice, in back-to-back sessions that began around 1:30 p.m. The content focused on the reason for the assembly, a description of what constitutes hate crimes and how to report them, and actions the school is taking to ensure everyone’s safety. We included a brief PowerPoint, and presenters included Board President Dr. Jackie Moore, Superintendent Dr. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams, Assistant Principals Lynda Parker and Matt Kirkpatrick, and a representative from the police department. (Unfortunately, Principal Nate Rouse was out sick today.)

During the first assembly, several student protesters took the stage demanding change, including adoption of a racial-equity policy and curriculum and hiring more teachers of color. Many students began a walk out; however, two student leaders swiftly took the podium, urging students to stay and engage around the issues. Most students remained, and the program resumed. At the end of the assembly, students exited to the Student Center, where many gathered in an impromptu protest demanding change. While this student action was unexpected, noisy, and confusing in the moment, the event was peaceful, and security, teachers, and administrators were fully present to ensure everyone’s safety. Dr. Pruitt-Adams addressed the protesting students while the second round of the assembly got underway in the auditorium. Because it was nearing dismissal time, after Dr. Pruitt-Adams’ address, students in the Student Center were given the option of joining the second assembly or leaving for the day. The day ended peacefully with a plan for moving forward.

Immediate follow up
During late arrival tomorrow, we are replacing our planned professional development with an all-faculty and staff meeting. We’ll be discussing the issues that have taken place and preparing teachers to hold follow-up discussions with students during their 2nd period classes. Members of our Student Services team spent today preparing a guide to holding these discussions, and team leaders for our racial equity work will be available to support teachers in these conversations. As always, members of our Support Services teams of counselors, social workers, and psychologists are available to provide additional one-on-one support as needed.

Keeping our campus safe
We have increased security on campus. As with last week’s incident, many of you were first made aware of the hateful graffiti on social media. In order for us to deal with these incidents most effectively, if you see any hate speech on school grounds, rather than post about it, please immediately notify security staff in the Welcome Center by calling 708-434-3125. The Welcome Center is open 7:00 a.m. till 10:00 p.m. Monday-Friday. Outside of these hours, please call 911 to notify the police. We have shared with students that they can text our tip line anonymously at 274637, using the key word OPRF. Do not remove the graffiti, as it will need to be examined during the police and school investigations. The school will remove the graffiti as soon as evidence collection is complete.

Town hall tomorrow
We know that so many of you are deeply affected and concerned right now. As Board President Dr. Jackie Moore and I communicated to you last week, our goal for our school community is to do everything possible so that our staff, students, and families are not put in harm’s way. To that end, we invite you to join us this Wednesday, Nov. 7, from 6-8 p.m. in the OPRF South Cafeteria for Community Conversation about Hate Crimes in Our Community: Coming Together for Change. This event is being co-sponsored by the high school with Suburban Unity Alliance. Our focus will be on what actions we can take as a community to eradicate intolerance and hate. We hope you will join us.

Dr. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams