BY PETER JONES
After a rough start to the 2017/18 schoolyear, Littleton Public Schools Superintendent Brian Ewert is striving to make clear that the district’s schools should be safe and welcoming places for everyone.
“In LPS, we are committed to the ideal that all means all,” he wrote in a Sept. 15 letter to the community. “All students—regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, disability … students who are gifted, immigrants, English-language learners, LGBTQ, homeless, poor, affluent and those who may have social, emotional, behavioral or academic challenges—matter.”
Ewert’s letter went out to parents the day after the LPS Board of Education informally affirmed its commitment to inclusion, in the wake of two back-to-back student suicides and several reports of racially motivated harassment in just the first month of the new schoolyear. The board was expected to make a formal proclamation on the matter soon, according to board President Jack Reutzel.
“We’re trying to emphasize the point to our students, to our community, to our teachers that this kind of behavior is abhorrent to us,” he said. “We strive to give everybody a great education experience and we’re not going to tolerate this type of conduct from anyone.”
The first suicide by an Arapahoe High School junior occurred Aug. 29. The next day, a Powell Middle School eighth-grader shot himself at Mark Twain Elementary. Both had just posted disturbing messages on social media.
Among the recent discriminatory incidents included a white student injecting a racial slur into a black student’s PowerPoint presentation, an elementary student telling an Indian classmate to “go wash their skin,” a middle school student shouting racial slurs, and symbols like swastikas bring drawn in yearbooks and elsewhere.
“In some cases, the students did not intend to be hurtful. They were simply unaware of the true meaning behind the symbols and language,” Ewert wrote in his letter. “They did not fully understand how painful these symbols and words can be. In other instances, the students had full understanding and chose to behave in this way.”
The superintendent said LPS has a number of social, emotional and behavioral programs in place to teach students appropriate ways to interact. He said each instance of bullying or harassment is taken seriously and handled, sometimes with discipline, other times through education or “restorative justice.” Parental involvement is an important part of this process, he wrote.
“We expect our students to learn and demonstrate suitable ways to discuss age-appropriate [and sometimes controversial] topics in the classroom as part of their studies,” Ewert continued. “As educators, it is our duty to model respect and inclusiveness for all. Every day in our schools, we honor the expectation that differing views and opinions should be discussed, but always within the framework of respect and seeking to understand.”
Ewert said it was the district’s moral responsibility to stand against hate and create a “culture of acceptance” in the schools and the larger community.
“We are committed to providing learning environments that are physically, socially and emotionally safe places for all,” he wrote.
The results of a districtwide survey last year show, students, parents and employees reported feeling safe and positive about the climate in their schools, Ewert stressed. A similar survey is slated to be conducted again later this schoolyear to see if things have changed.
Reutzel thinks there is likely a connection between incidents in LPS and such recent events as the violent racial protests in Charlottesville, Va. that prompted a controversial response from President Trump.
“The coincidence is hard to ignore,” the school board president said. “Clearly, there’s a national narrative out there that can’t help but filter down to states and communities, and what happens in communities sometimes ends up at schoolhouse doors.”
LPS is expected to host a panel discussion and mental-health resources fair on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 5:30-8:30 p.m., at Mission Hills Church, 620 Southpark Drive in Littleton.
“We all want to partner together to help our families in crisis,” said Diane Leiker, LPS’s spokeswoman.
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