Responding to social media posts alleging racism and an online petition signed by over 2,200 people accusing Biglerville High School of being “complicit in the abuse and harassment of students of color,” PA state officials and the Upper Adams School District (UASD) administration said today they were taking allegations of racism and sexism raised on social media seriously and that there was a mechanism in place for responding to complaints and concerns.
As the district collaborates with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC), Department of Justice, Attorney General’s Office, and Department of Education, UASD Superintendent Wesley Doll asked people to use the state Safe 2 Say Something website to report any concerns they may have.
Doll assured people the hotline was completely anonymous, despite some rumors that it was not. “Any concerns that that come through that site are presented to our trained staff and we address them,” said Doll.
Chad Lassiter, PHRC executive director, said the district had not yet received any complaints and that the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act provides a framework for investigations and compliance for potential future complaints.
Lassiter said he would be working with UASD to bring expertise in unconscious bias, diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism training to help young people of all races and ethnicities share their experiences. Lassiter said the state was also prepared to provide counseling dealing with trauma and the potential of vicarious traumatization.
PHRC Acknowledges Systemic Racism
Saying Pennsylvania ranks number eight in the country in terms of hate groups, Lassiter noted that UASD was a “microcosm of structural systemic racism” in Pennsylvania. “A lot of this is being socialized in homes, so we can’t whitewash it. We can’t get away from it. A lot of it is more than just kids being kids.”
“We’re not looking only at this county. We’re not looking only at this school. We know that in order to reach a level of reconciliation you have to have an admission of truth. You have to be willing to make sure that you don’t get back to a sense of normalcy. This is going be a protracted initiative that’s going to take time. There is accountability,” said Lassiter. “We need to make sure that we’re holding the adults in the lives of these children extremely accountable. When we’re talking about the shadow of hate, when we’re talking about forms of bigotry and prejudice, it’s not merely name calling.”
Responses to the Facebook Page
Doll said despite allegations from community members the district had not tried to shut down the Racism @ Biglerville High School Facebook page. “We do not have anyone seeking out who is running that website or anything about it. The website created an awareness for us. That’s something that needed to happen,” said Doll. Doll said the district was looking at the systems already in place and what additional things the district needed to put into place. “We want all students to feel safe here at our school,” said Doll.”
Doll said the school has had one officer on duty over the past week, similar to the police presence that is normally at the school on any given day. Doll said last Monday there was one police officer on duty. “We had one local police officer here in light of the number of Facebook postings we were receiving. We had some concerns from parents regarding those. So that individual was here just to be present,” said Doll.
Doll said some students had come to the open meetings that were set up with the Biglerville High School principal and assistant principal last week. “It was more of a sharing of what types of things were happening. They were mainly just listening to any students who felt comfortable to come down.”
Doll said the district had been communicating to students, parents, and teachers via email letters and that it would continue to collaborate and communicate as needed to keep people abreast of any situations.
Doll said the district would be scheduling a meeting with stakeholders to identify what the next steps will be to put new systems into place or to enhance the systems the district currently has.
“This isn’t going to be a sprint. It’s going to be a multi-marathon,” said Doll. This isn’t something that will be fixed in a week, a month, or a year. This will be an ongoing process within our school community.”
PHRC Marketing & Communications Specialist Laura Argenbright said the state and the district encouraged people to speak out. “I’m just encouraging everyone to come to this with an open mind and an open heart from either side. This isn’t something that just happened. It’s something that has been happening and will happen in the future.”
Doll said he preferred communication about this issue to go through him but he had not asked school board members, school staff, or teachers to not talk about them.