Lakeridge Junior High School Principal Kurt Schultz says that like many schools throughout the United States, his campus has experienced "some incidents this year that were deeply troubling to us."
Schultz told The Review this week that his school has investigated and responded to several incidents in which some students "were targeted or intimidated by others," and that some of those incidents "involved racist, sexist or anti-immigrant language or imagery."
"Each of these incidents is unacceptable, and all of them represent a challenge that we must face collectively," he said. "These incidents were perpetrated by a small minority of kids here; most of our students are kind and caring. We have clear discipline guidelines that ensure students' safety at school and support students who misbehave to learn and grow from their mistakes."
An LJHS parent told The Review that vandals had drawn racist symbols at the school and said the issue should be brought to light, especially because of highly publicized discriminatory incidents at Lake Oswego High School earlier in the school year. Schultz said the most recent incident at his school was in April, but he said things have been going smoothly since then.
Schultz did not confirm the parent's report, but he did offer details about the school's response to student misbehavior. Individual discipline measures are not shared with the public.
Schultz said his school has been striving to create a welcoming environment, with the commitment to stand together as one community and fulfill its own mission of being a "nurturing and safe learning community that embraces the uniqueness of middle school and challenges everyone to become thoughtful and respectful learners and citizens."
"It hurts all of us — and we are failing to fulfill our mission — if some of our students feel unsafe in our learning community," Schultz said.
He said students in middle school are grappling with changes to their "minds, bodies, relationships, responsibilities and roles," but emphasized that the recent behavior is not representative of the LJHS student body.
To create an even more inclusive environment, Schultz has pioneered a variety of activities to "build empathy, engage in restorative justice practices and to promote equity."
The school has had staff trainings with the empathy-building organization Coaching Peace. There also have been classroom lessons and assemblies, as well as visits from guest speakers Alter Wiener, a Holocaust survivor, and Jake French, a young man in a wheelchair who said his life changed one day after he drank 20 beers.
Other activities at LJHS have included student council conversations and awareness days, such as the recent Spread the Word to End the Word, a campaign led by the leadership class to stop the use of the word "retarded."
In the coming year, Schultz said that he is committed to continuing these efforts and to teach on these topics, as well as to engage students and their families "in thoughtful reflection about the implications of their words and actions, and to help everyone develop more empathy."
He said that the school and the district "are developing additional training for our staff to support them as they address these complex issues as well."
"We work daily on teaching students to be kind, safe, thoughtful and respectful," Schultz said. "And there is more work to do."