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District responds to students' 'racist' post, 'anti-semitic' photo with vow to raise awareness

DICKINSONTwo incidents involving discrimination occurred at Lake Oswego High School within the past month: one described as anti-Semitic and another as racist.

School district Superintendent Heather Beck told the Lake Oswego School Board on Monday night that an “anti-Semitic” picture was posted in the LOHS cafeteria and a “racial” comment about violence against African Americans appeared on a Facebook page run by LOHS students. Beck said the district will respond with professional training and discussions with students.

“We will collectively address this head-on," Beck said, "and prove to ourselves and others that we are better than this.”

She issued a letter to her entire staff in all school buildings Wednesday afternoon on the need to "combat an increasingly coarse culture" in the world around students. She also outlined the efforts the school district has done in conjunction with Coaching Peace, an organization that holds empathy workshop. (See letter below.) LOHS Principal Rollin Dickinson reported the incidents to parents in a letter Monday (See below). He said he became aware of a “deeply disturbing” post on Nov. 2 on the Class of 2017 Facebook page, “a private account managed by students.”

Dickinson said a poll of potential senior pranks was created three weeks ago on the page and included this suggestion: "We create a club called Ku-Klux-Klub and find every black kid and sacrifice them." He said no one “Liked” the post, but no one objected to it, either — until one student finally came forward and told a teacher, who told the principal.

“We were able to determine that the student who wrote the posts was not a current LOHS student but a former LOHS student who now attends an out-of-district high school,” Dickinson’s letter said. “One of our students volunteered to take the poll down.”

School Board Chair Sarah Howell said Monday that the people who report such incidents should be commended for their courage.

“It’s disappointing when people stand by and do nothing in these situations, so I’m very grateful (to) whoever brought this to your attention,” Howell said.

Dickinson said that a student did respond to this incident of racism, but the second incident took an adult’s intervention.

He said a “disturbing example” of intolerance happened the day before Yom Kippur — one of the Jewish High Holy Days, which was observed Oct. 12 — when a picture was posted in the school cafeteria.

“It was a picture of a concentration camp victim being pushed into an oven,” Dickinson’s letter said. “This caption was typed beneath the image: ‘Easy Bake Oven.’ An administrator found a student taking a picture of the image with his phone, not taking the picture down. The administrator took the picture down instead.”

BECKWho put up the picture in the first place? The district does not know who posted the picture in the cafeteria, and the other student is not within LOSD, so the district has not taken disciplinary actions, Beck said.

But in terms of next steps, Beck and Dickinson both said they have a few plans.

To address the issue, Beck said the district is holding small group conversations with students, will spearhead further professional development and will invite guest speakers to touch on these issues.

“This doesn’t reflect what Lake Oswego really stands for, and this is not a community that embraces this in any way, shape, form or fashion,” she said.

Dickinson said what does happen is that students become overwhelmed with all they see online nowadays, and they come to ignore some things after an overexposure to them.

“To be a counterforce against that tendency, our student newspaper staff is writing a series of articles about this for our upcoming issue of Lake Views, which will come out on Tuesday,” he said in his Monday letter.

This is not the first time that racism has been a hot issues at local schools. In March 2012, then-LOHS football player Marqueese Royster became the subject of racist tweets, on the heels of his announcing a decision to transfer to Lakeridge High. But the issue has not always been shown in a negative light: In May 2016, LOHS students held a Diversity Panel to raise awareness among mainstream students about what attending school is like for a student of color.

"I definitely think there is an environment where there is a sort of ignorance that definitely needs to be addressed," says Michael Murray, an LOHS freshman.

Dickinson said he shared the information because he cares about students and believes they need to know about these types of incidents.

“We care,” he said. “I am not trying to shame our students, just to explain a dark but pervasive aspect of our culture that we have to be honest about. I try to remember, too, that culture is learned and it is malleable, and that by having these difficult conversations we can grow closer together and move closer toward the version of ourselves we strive to become.”
By Jillian Daley
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Extra! Extra!

Check out the Tuesday edition of the Lake Oswego High School newspaper, Lake Views, which focuses on racial issues at the school: lohslakeviews.com/volume-65-issue-2.

Superintendent's letter to staff

On Monday, LOHS Principal Rollin Dickinson sent a message to parents that should be required reading for every parent in our school district. It describes, in unflinching detail, two episodes of racist and anti-Semitic behavior that are shocking, inexcusable, and appalling in their nature.

I do not believe that this behavior is representative of our students or our community, but I am concerned that the students who viewed these postings did not challenge them or immediately report them. Nor do I believe this is a phenomenon exclusive to LOHS, but is representative of our shortcomings as a community in equipping our students with the empathy to embrace tolerance and stand up to injustice, and the tools to recognize and combat an increasingly coarse culture in the world around them.

We have done a lot of work in our schools over the past two years around building positive school culture, but this is work that is never done; this is an effort that requires constant vigilance and attention on the part of all of us. We will continue this work with renewed focus by engaging in small group conversations with students, bringing in speakers, engaging in professional development, and working together as a community to reject hatefulness and recognize insensitivity.

All students should feel welcome and safe in our schools. I want to conclude this message with an apology to all of those who have been hurt by these incidents. We will collectively address this head on, and prove to ourselves and each other that we are better than this. We cannot allow this story to repeat itself in the future.

As Principal Dickinson said, “What’s at stake is more fundamentally important to our students than anything else we will teach them. In this sense, this is, and really must be, a call to action.”

It will take all of us.

— Lake Oswego School District Superintendent Heather Beck

Principal’s letter to families

There is a natural tendency when a situation is difficult or makes us uncomfortable to say nothing or to say everything but the thing that must be said. So much about being a principal, though, or a leader of any kind, is about learning to have difficult conversations, to trust each other enough to work together to find a positive way forward.

The hope I feel, even and perhaps especially when a situation is difficult, gives me courage.

Last Wednesday morning, I became aware of some disturbing posts on the Class of 2017 Facebook page, which is a private account managed by students. Approximately three weeks ago a poll of possible senior-prank ideas was created. Students in the group could add ideas, like them, etc. Some of the ideas were in poor taste; some were more or less harmless. And then there was this: "We create a club called Ku-Klux-Klub and find every black kid and sacrifice them."

This deeply disturbing post was present for days, weeks even, and, despite frequent activity on the page, and though no one “liked” the post, nothing was said. Finally, fortunately, a student felt compelled to say something about it to a teacher. The teacher told me. Within minutes, we were able to have conversations with students, parents, teachers, counselors, and the principal of another high school. We were able to determine that the student who wrote the posts was not a current LOHS student but a former LOHS student who now attends an out-of-district high school. One of our students volunteered to take the poll down. Our ASB President wrote a note on the Facebook page calling for positivity, higher ethics. I was able to speak with more students the following day and write this message with their help.

In short, we were able to take care of our students and each other. But it took a student standing up to allow us to do that.

Even though I am thankful a student had the courage to take positive action in response to injustice, still I worry about this kind of racism.

I feel deeply for our students who are the direct and indirect victims of it and believe we are all injured as a result. And I worry that many of our students witness this kind of crudeness, this type of violence, in its many forms, more often than we think they do. I wonder if we have prepared our students, as we should, to be heroic in response. I wonder what it does to a person to do nothing.

A few weeks ago, as a graphic and similarly disturbing example, the day before Yom Kippur, there was a picture posted in our cafeteria that was horribly Anti-Semitic. It was a picture of a concentration camp victim being pushed into an oven. This caption was typed beneath the image: "Easy Bake Oven."

An administrator found a student taking a picture of the image with his phone, not taking the picture down. The administrator took the picture down instead.

Certainly, this problem is not new, nor does it solely exist in Lake Oswego, but I have to think there is a kind of ethical diminishment in it, in being a bystander to injustice, whether on a screen or in person. I know our students have to ignore so much of what is online these days. To fully take it all in, to think about what it all means really, perhaps would be too much. Rather than question and respond, they learn to ignore.

To be a counterforce against that tendency, our student-newspaper staff is writing a series of articles about this for our upcoming issue of Lake Views, which will come out on Tuesday. I am including you in the discussion right now. And as a staff and student body, and at both high schools and both middle schools in our district, with the resolute support of Dr. Beck, our central office administrators, and our school board members, we will continue the conversation by bringing in speakers, engaging in professional development, and working together as a community to find a positive way forward. I will keep you updated about that work as we go, and I sincerely welcome, and quite honestly need, your partnership, your support.

I share all of this because I want you to know that I care. We care. I am not trying to shame our students, just to explain a dark but pervasive aspect of our culture that we have to be honest about.

I try to remember, too, that culture is learned and it is malleable, and that by having these difficult conversations we can grow closer together and move closer toward the version of ourselves we strive to become.

I love our students, our staff, this community that spreads well beyond Lake Oswego; and I believe we share a moral imperative to help create a culture in which we learn to be big in the face of meanness; a place where all students are safe, challenged, supported, welcome; a school where we are heroically kind. There are so many inspiring examples of how this generosity of spirit already occurs on a daily basis at Lake Oswego High School, but to fully realize that vision will take more work. It will require courage, it will require conversation, and it will require change.

We have to be better than this, and I believe we are.

What’s at stake is more fundamentally important to our students than anything else we will teach them. In this sense, this is, and really must be, a call to action.

It will take the whole Laker family.

— LOHS Principal Rollin Dickinson

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