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High school hoping to change hearts and minds

#EndWithMe aims to shut down hurtful words and promote understanding

Forest Grove High School's annual Diversity Week is taking on special importance this year in the aftermath of an unsettling incident last month in which a sophomore student called an African American teacher the n-word.

Racial tensions in Forest Grove extend beyond the school. Just last week, someone reported to Forest Grove police that a resident's sidewalk had been defaced with graffiti and that white supremacist literature was left on his lawn after an African American friend visited his home.?

It's possible the campaign starting at the high school this week could spread to the greater community, but school administrators are starting with the problems under their roof. Last Friday, they sent this flyer to parents:

"At FGHS we take incidents of discrimination and intolerance very seriously, regardless of toward whom it is directed.

"Students and staff must strive to create an inclusive school environment where all students and staff feel welcome and are free from bullying, racism and harassment.

"What can you do to support our work toward a more inclusive school that respects and values the differences in people?

n Realize the Power of Words and their potential impact on others

n Respect and embrace the differences in others

n Interrupt incidents of racism, bullying and harassment, reporting those that continue

"Given recent events throughout our school community we recognize that there are areas of improvement needed that are specific to respecting differences. We are kicking off a campagin of #EndsWithMe and the Power of Words. This is a campaign that encourages our students to stand up against hateful words and actions that tear people down based on differences, and challenge us to bring our community closer together. The words we use have power, whether in casual conversations, writing or on social media. Please join us in supporting a message of respecting and embracing the differences in others as well as empowering each other to respectfully address these incidents. Activities will be offered throughtout the school day the week of April 18th-22nd that showcase our diverse student population and the activities in which they participate."

In addition to Diversity Week, which is organized by students, school staff will participate in an in-service "equity training" next Friday, April 29, said Diane Sykes, attorney for the African American teacher, Meysha Harville. Sykes hopes the district will participate in additional anti-discrimination trainings in the future.

Meanwhile, the school district's investigation of discrimination is ongoing, Sykes said.