On Valentine’s Day, three students were caught passing out pink notes containing an anti-semitic Holocaust joke to other students. Believing these to be satirical, the students distributed over 30 notes. These students were eventually caught and received disciplinary action as a result.
This event comes after a school year full of concerns by everyone in the North Springs community about the embracing of the school’s diversity. The initial event causing concern about this issue was the impromptu Black Lives Matter protest in September. This led to the creation of the Principal’s Student Council on Diversity, a group of appointed students from a wide range of backgrounds, ethnic groups, extracurriculars, and friend groups. Mr. Hanson created the council to try to solve the issue of embracing the diversity of North Springs while working on ending the discrimination that caused the Valentine’s Day incident. Many students on the council attended the ADL: No Place For Hate Summit on MLK Day to learn techniques on how to solve the issue. The goal was to bring these activities to North Springs in assembly form.
The notes from Valentine’s Day was a final catalyst to arrange the assemblies. Mr. Hanson communicated to everyone in the North Springs community about the goal of the council and how it planned to solve the issues. He sent out an email after the Valentine’s Day incident announcing the assembly dates and goals. “When coupled with the concerns brought up by the students in September with the sit-in, and other things happening on campus, our community and our nation, it is readily apparent that we need to start working with our students on how to be more accepting of the awesome diversity we have on campus and in our community,” he wrote. “Before the incident from last week, I had been working on bringing a group in to help our students understand bias and diversity, and was waiting on dates.
On March 3rd and March Eighth, students attended assemblies based on their gender and grade level. These were led by students from the council who attended the No Place for Hate Summit, as well as representatives from the Anti-Defamation League.
The assemblies were held in the auditorium during the two designated days. They included an overview of the causes of discrimination, led by Mr. Hanson and certain students from the Student Advisory Committee, including Jessica Deyo, Kalki Kukkala, Grant Showell, Josh Patton, and Matan Berman. This was followed by an in-depth presentation (which included an educational powerpoint, personal anecdotes, and a video), led by ADL representatives Erin Beacham and Dana Smith. Smith and Beacham were very clear to all students that their goals were not to change the students’ opinions about current issues (i,e. race relations), but rather to stop (or suppress) the discrimination in the school and the community, as well as educate the students about embracing the vast diversity of the school. Smith and Beacham approached each assembly differently based on their audience, but the presentation mostly remained the same. “It wasn’t like those things usually are, like boring and stuff,” said junior Scott Fineberg. “Dana and Erin were talking to us like we were adults rather than kids, which made it a lot better.
The different approaches for each group resulted in different reactions from students and teachers. After supervising the first assembly (the assembly for the freshmen girls), longtime Health and P.E. teacher, Coach Cushman, approached the leaders of the assembly and began to talk about her strong feelings on the issue. Cushman eventually started to let some tears out while talking about the specific incidents and how truly horrible they are. The student reaction that was apparent with all groups were the discussions that took place post-assembly about everything from how to get students to embrace the diversity to whether the presentation was effective. Whether students agreed or disagreed on what was said in the assembly, dialogue was apparent throughout the school between students and teachers.
The assemblies were only the first step to solving the problems. One thing is certain: after the assembly: most people recognize that there is a problem that should be solved. The first step to fixing a problem is recognizing that there is one, and that is what many students took away from it.