• Hate Has No Place In Quakertown
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    Date of publication: Oct. 12, 2017

    By Dr. Bill Harner, Superintendent

    Quakertown Community School District

     
    Good evening!
     
    When you send your child(ren) to Quakertown schools, you expect that from the time your child(ren) gather around the bus stop early in the morning to the time they get back home in the afternoon or at night, that we keep them safe.  You expect that your child(ren) is/are treated with kindness and respect, and that no harm - physical or emotional - comes to them. For that matter, everyone who attends, works, or visits Quakertown schools should expect the very same thing!  Our school district has policies, procedures and programs to support, protect, and enforce that simple expectation.  Unfortunately, that is not always the experience for everyone in our community.   Friday night’s thoughtless incident of racism and hate that captured the news media’s attention, was not an isolated situation for our school community.  We do have a problem, we need to recognize it, own it, and do our very best to fix it!
     
    Most of my time over the past six days has been dedicated to learning about what happened Friday night, and to working through the myriad of issues resulting from it. I have been talking with and apologizing to school officials at Cheltenham, listening to investigative reports on the incidents, being interviewed by five different news media outlets, reading email correspondence from many of you and Cheltenham parents whose daughters were victims of the racial slurs, spending time in our school buildings talking with our students and faculty, and supporting our efforts to welcome the Cheltenham soccer team earlier this week.
     
    Everything I know that is out in the news media is publicly posted on our homepage, including the editorial today in the Intelligencer. I am grateful to the students and parents who showed up Tuesday at the home boys soccer game against Cheltenham who made banners of apology and provided a wonderful example of what our community is about.  But, expressing remorse is only the beginning of our work!
     
    During my four year tenure as your superintendent, I have been aware of several acts of racism and harassment - student to student, student to adult, adult to student, and adult to adult.  In fact, back in 2014, shortly after the School Board hired an African American administrator that I recommended, a parent said to the new administrator, “You know, you don’t belong here.” In fact she does belong here, because of her professional qualifications. She also provides an exemplary role model for all of our students.  Incidents of students using the “n-word” are not everyday occurrences in Quakertown, but they do happen. Even one is too many.
     
    Several hate-based incidents happened in our schools the day after the Presidential election last November.  They were incredibly hurtful.  Try to imagine another elementary school child asking your child, “Are you going to go back to Mexico now?” Or, being a minority student at the Freshmen Center, where white students were reported stacking up books at lunch and telling Hispanic students to “stay on the other side of the wall.”   We also have incidents of religious intolerance in our schools. For example, one student asked another student - who is muslim, when he was going to bring a suicide vest to school.  These kinds of comments made to anyone, let alone a child, are crushing, if not life altering.  Finally, I received a couple emails from African American parents yesterday that described their children’s various racial experiences in our schools. The experiences they described were awful! A few African American students told me that they do not participate in after school activities because racial slurs are thrown at them.  We need to do a better job of insuring that the values we hold dear about Quakertown Community School District are inclusive of all of the members of our community.
     
    So how do we move forward? Yesterday, the principal at Strayer Middle School and his staff held a “unity” assembly for their 8th graders.  Some of the student comments and classmate responses of support would make you cry. It’s a start!  Principals and I are looking at several opportunities and curricula to address these issues head on. We will not dance around them.  The Cheltenham administrative team has offered us the opportunity to participate in programs that are ongoing in their community. Last night, at the Quakertown Parent Council meeting, parent leaders from all of our school buildings unanimously supported working through these tough issues, and we will. It is my expectation that this incident will provide the catalyst for us to have those courageous conversations, grow together as a community, and make ALL of our students proud to live and attend schools in Quakertown.
     
    Thanks for reading my blog. Sharing your thoughts with the Board and me would be most helpful, too.
     
    I hope that you will join us to make a positive difference.