UPDATE: Swastikas scrawled on walls, white power signs flashed at sporting events and on social media, as well as “uses of the ‘n’ word,” have prompted escalating discussions this week among students, faculty and administrators at Pascack Valley High School following the publication of an open letter by a concerned student group.
All are being asked to wear green to school tomorrow in solidarity against hatred and intolerance.
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Principal Thomas DeMaio convened assemblies at the school on Tuesday to address the topic and has joined students and faculty in posting tweets supporting the cause and praising diversity, using the hashtag #PeaceinPV (see below). A school safety meeting is scheduled next Wednesday.
It began with an open letter to the community, published on the web site of the school newspaper in which the PVHS Human Rights League urges others to “stand up against white supremacy” at the school.
On Tuesday, students received an email with the link to a mixtape on which “a student rapped about equality in our school,” The Smoke Signal reported.
“Soon, students of all backgrounds and from all grades hit ‘Reply All’ and shared their thoughts on the topic with the rest of the school,” the site reported. “Some of the emails offered constructive criticism or were sympathetic towards the problem, while others seemed to make light of the situation, making jokes that many felt were inappropriate.
“After numerous ‘reply all’ emails had been exchanged, the email server was shut down.”
DeMaio then convened the grade-level meetings, the report says.
DeMaio also wrote to parents and students, urging them to discuss the issue in an attempt to “eradicate the hurtfulness of racial, religious, or gender bias in the Pascack Valley.”
The principal vowed to “put into place future measures so every student can come to Pascack Valley and need not worry about the possibility of hearing or seeing negative actions or words among their peers.”
He also pledged consequences for those caught practicing intolerance.
The HRL letter published Sunday reads, in part: “There is no denying it: [A] group of Pascack Valley’s own students have been publicly advocating white supremacy, in our hallways, at our sporting events, and on social media.”
Minority students at the school endure “a stream of hateful racial, ethnic, and homophobic slurs” every day, it says. “Sometimes these may be subtle, but they are always extremely offensive, unjust, and threatening.”
“White supremacists not only target people of color, but members of religious, gender, and sexual minorities as well. Those hand signals in the form of a ‘W’ that you see displayed within our halls, at sporting events, and in pictures on social media are signals of ‘White Power’ (not ‘win’).
“Is this the image of Pascack Valley High School that we want advertised?”
“Racism, hatred, and intolerance in any way is not cool, nor is it funny,” the letter says. “When you stand by in silence you are passively supporting it. When you ‘like; or ‘share’ social media posts you are perpetuating it.
“Not being an actively racist, queerphobic, sexist, or anti-semitic person does not mean that you are not a part of the problem,” it says. “However, we can all work together to combat the oppression present in our community and change the negative tone that has dominated our school climate in recent months.”
“There is no warranted reason to threaten the happiness and safety of individuals whose beliefs and/or identity do not hurt themselves or others.”
“We can never reach a better world if bystanders to these incidents do not act in solidarity with those who are abused physically and emotionally simply for who they are,” the letter adds. “It is time for the student body, faculty, and administration to be aware of this issue occurring within and beyond PV’s own walls and to feel empowered and compelled to stop it.“
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