Following the recent presidential election, a national advocacy group, the Southern Poverty Law Center, reported a spike in incidents of “hateful harassment and intimidation” across the country.
Last week, several members of Vibrant Schools Tacoma, a local advocacy group, spoke eloquently at our School Board meeting. They expressed deep concern over the safety of students from diverse races, lifestyles and backgrounds who could face harassment, intimidation or bullying in our schools by those who feel emboldened by the presidential election results to lash out.
Tacoma, as a community, has demonstrated increasing tolerance and acceptance of a wide range of people and perspectives.
We want that dedication to equity, understanding and respect to continue here. That’s why I want to assure you that Tacoma Public Schools will not waver in its role as caretakers of Tacoma’s children.
You may not know that in 2014 our School Board became one of the first in the state to adopt a formal school district equity policy. You need only read the opening passage to understand the strength of Tacoma Public Schools’ commitment:
“The Tacoma School District affirms the inherent dignity and the equal rights of every student. It acknowledges the need to provide for every student a quality education that includes appreciation and respect for human individuality, cultural differences, and similarities that contribute to our democratic nation as a whole.
“Every student deserves a respectful learning environment in which their racial, ethnic, religious, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability diversity is valued and contributes to successful academic outcomes. Learning and work environments are enriched and improved by the contributions, perspectives and presence of diverse participants…
“The district prohibits discrimination and harassment based on race, religion, color, national origin or ancestry, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, marital or veteran status or disability.”
In our schools, we have embarked on what we call the Tacoma Whole Child Initiative. The foundation for this 10-year initiative relies on some key principles:
▪ Looking after the social and emotional needs of our students, not solely their academic needs.
▪ Establishing and reinforcing positive behavior expectations.
▪ Building on students’ existing strengths by teaching and reinforcing self-awareness and self-management skills.
This important work has become a national model and contributed to an improvement in the climate and behavior in our schools and a meaningful decrease in the need for disciplinary actions.
We want to see this trend continue, because it contributes to one of our School Board’s four strategic goals: All schools will create and maintain safe learning environments that promote excellent academic achievement.
All of us in Tacoma Public Schools will continue our focus on creating welcoming environments and keeping all our children safe. We also will continue to follow our standard procedures for receiving and responding to reports of discrimination, harassment, intimidation or bullying.
I want to thank our district staff, students, families and community partners for the continued commitment to our district motto: Every Student. Every Day. We will not allow personal politics — or the reactions to an election — to become either a catalyst or an excuse for the mistreatment of any student.
Carla J. Santorno is the superintendent of Tacoma Public Schools.