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Grey Matters, February 27, 2017; Volume 5, Number 24

posted Feb 27, 2017, 3:48 AM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jul 18, 2017, 11:06 AM by James Marcotte ]

Hi Everyone,

Welcome back from February Break.  As we continue to partner with you on promoting a healthy schoolwork and life balance for students and families, I hope many of you found opportunities to use last week’s homework-free vacation for something meaningful and different from your daily routines.  In my “welcome back from break” editions of Grey Matters I typically offer some highlights and minor fiascos that usually result from spending a whole week with my children, and I definitely have a few worth sharing.  However, I am going to postpone sharing those for another Grey Matters because I want to instead direct everyone’s attention to a more difficult matter.  Please do me a favor and read the below message carefully and in its entirety.

I need to notify all of you about an incident that occurred right before we left for the February Break.  On Friday (before Break) we learned that a swastika had been drawn into the snow on the campus football field the evening prior. There were no other symbols or writing that accompanied the drawing.  Before we could disclose news of this with the broader community, we needed to spend that day working with School Resource Officer Detective Campbell on completing an investigation and meeting with the parents and students who were involved.  I also met with Superintendent Brand to ensure that he was aware and involved in our deliberation.  As we return from the Break, I am able to share some additional information with all of you.  

We know that a small number of RJ Grey students were responsible for this because they self-reported the incident to their parents and came forward to school administrators on Friday to explain what had been done and to express remorse.  In accordance with student privacy laws, we will not be sharing details of discipline-related outcomes that may have resulted from this incident.  What I can share is that we see this action as a clear violation of school policy, and more importantly our community’s core values.  It is one that demands a response that is both consistent with our student discipline code and includes a meaningful educational component for those involved.  Many thanks to Detective Campbell for his support and involvement as we determined the appropriate course of action.  

As I mentioned in late November, now more than ever students are constantly exposed to imagery and behaviors that run counter to our school’s values and norms, in particular through social media.  For students at such an impressionable age, there will be the temptation to mimic slogans or punchlines or to repeat provocative statements on a bus or playing field.  Parents and educators alike have the important ongoing responsibility of modeling for our children the behaviors that we hope they will adopt and practice. I would again encourage all parents and guardians to be proactive on this front and not hesitate to have conversations with their children and participate in some appropriate supervision of their children's social media activities and connections.  

It is also clear that we are currently witnessing an escalation in expressions of bias and bigotry that seem to have found fertile ground in the current political and social landscape.  The ongoing collisions between competing definitions of inclusion and acceptance have very tangible consequences for many.  It’s likely that our students are going to look to you and us to help them navigate this new and shifting landscape. Regardless of these potential shifts, there are some commitments and ideals that will remain unchanged at RJ Grey.  In particular, we will continue to devote ourselves to the goal of helping students elevate beyond the notion of mere tolerance and develop an ability to exercise and model empathy, compassion and sincere acceptance. We consider this aspiration central to Acton-Boxborough’s mission as an educational institution, and we pursue this work through our daily engagement with students, through the curriculum, and in our ongoing efforts to create a safe and optimal learning environment for all.  The foundation of our 7th and 8th grade Social Studies curriculum is built around that goal and serves as an anchor in this endeavor.   As we prepare for a return to school and have this recent incident also on our minds, I have plans to connect with members of our staff to discuss effective ways to continue our efforts and to provide over time the professional learning that can assist our whole staff in this work.  

This recent incident will surely be upsetting to those in our community, and the history of the swastika and what it has historically represented means that this particular situation, regardless of intent, may also generate additional emotions for members of our Jewish community.  With this in mind, I met with Rabbi Mintz of Congregation Beth Elohim in Acton on Saturday to share with him a preview of what I am sharing now and received helpful counsel from him.  We have agreed to keep in touch and I want to thank him for his time.  

Thank you again to all our parents and guardians for your ongoing support of our school community, and the patience and partnership that you continue to offer us in our work with your students.  

If you’ve got it in you, I do have some other fairly time-sensitive reminders that I want to make sure I put in front of you and ask that you review.  I promise to keep it relatively short.  

  • An important reminder to parents and guardians of 8th grade students that the High School’s postponed Information Night regarding transition to 9th grade is scheduled for tonight (Monday, February 27) at 7pm in the High School Auditorium.  Please remember that this session is for a parent/guardian audience only and will end at 8:30pm.  8th grade students will participate in an information session on March 14 that will be co-led by High School and Junior High counselors and administrators.  

  • I hope 7th grade families have had a chance to review the letter that I sent to parents/guardians before the February Break regarding our plans to conduct the Signs of Suicide lesson and the Brief Screening for Adolescent Depression to students in 7th grade in late March.  We require every family to return a signed consent form (included with the letter and also sent via US Postal Mail) from every student’s parent/guardian indicating the student’s level of participation.  Please send that form in with your child as soon as possible.  If you need another copy of the consent form, please let me know.  

  • For parent/guardians who would like to learn more about the SOS lesson and preview the materials that are included in the lesson, please consider attending the Parent Information session that we have scheduled for this Tuesday, February 28 at 7pm in the Junior High Library.  This session will be led by Dr. Larry Berkowitz, Director of Riverside Trauma Center.  

  • A friendly reminder that the Winter Trimester closes next Monday, March 6.  Report cards will likely be ready on or around March 16.  

Have a great week, everyone.  Welcome back.