Northampton school board gets first look at ‘hate symbols’ policy

  • The sign for John F. Kennedy Middle School .

Staff Writer
Published: 8/14/2021 7:01:00 AM

NORTHAMPTON — The School Committee will consider implementing an “anti-bias and symbols of hate” policy that bans the display of swastikas and nooses on school grounds and at any school-related function. The policy would also establish a new procedure to report incidents of discrimination or hate symbols.

A first reading of the proposal, developed by the Rules & Policy subcommittee, was scheduled for Thursday night’s committee meeting. After members voiced concern that the draft was shared with them too recently, and that the public might not have seen it yet, the committee voted 8-2 to delay the first reading until Sept. 9.

“I’d like you all to have the time to read it. It’s pretty long. It’s very technical,” said member Laura Fallon, who was scheduled to present the policy and made the motion to wait. “I’d like it to get the attention it deserves.”

The roughly eight-page policy would apply to students, students’ families, faculty, staff, contractors and all visitors. The ban on “symbols of hate” would become effective upon passage by the School Committee, while the complaint procedure would be implemented in January.

“Anti-racism, anti-bias, and inclusive classroom practices promote an honest and brave culture of schooling, centering folks from marginalized communities, where every student is seen and heard,” the draft policy reads. “The District also knows that this commitment ... can only be achieved if it extends its anti-bias expectations and protections to staff and visitors in the school community.”

A “symbol of hate” is defined as “a symbol, image, or object that expresses animus on the basis of” a protected status, such as race, sex, religion, gender identity, disability, pregnancy, genetic information and more.

Although nooses, swastikas and Confederate flags are specifically banned, other symbols could be forbidden under the policy. Such symbols would be banned in online classes as well, but would be allowed in library and classroom learning materials.

In February, a racist Facebook page called “JFK White Student Union,” which featured a Confederate flag as its profile picture, criticized JFK Middle School Principal Desmond Caldwell as an “anti-American tyrant” due to his stance against displaying the Confederate flag at school. The poorly spelled post stated, “We cannot allow these induvials to erode our constitutional rights.”

In response to the post, about 200 people rallied outside the school in support of Caldwell.

The School Committee banned the Confederate flag in March, except in educational contexts, and asked the Rules & Policy subcommittee to develop a broader anti-bias and hate symbol policy.

The draft policy states that “the appropriation of Native American symbols in school mascots” is “offensive,” and that no member of the Northampton Public Schools community will be punished for opting out of an inter-district activity based on another school’s use of hate symbols.

A bias incident is defined as “conduct, speech, images or expression … that demonstrates conscious or unconscious unfair or prejudicial distinctions about people” based on “any status protected by law or District policy.”

The draft policy states that bias incidents are “wide-ranging and may include such things as stereotyping, microaggressions, or bullying and harassment based on protected class status,” and that a bias incident does not need to be an intentional act.

Anyone who is “likely to be impacted” by an alleged bias incident could file a complaint under the policy, not just the target of the alleged discrimination or remark. Complaints would be made to the school principal, the superintendent or the School Committee, depending on the circumstances.

The outcome of any complaint investigation would be shared on a “need to know” basis. If a complaint were found credible, remedial actions would include “accountability and training for people who have violated this policy,” “efforts to transform the conditions that perpetuated the harm and/or bias,” and “educational components that address the history and impact of symbols of hate and/or bias,” along with “restorative practices” and safety planning.

Complaints can also be filed with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.


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