District Addresses Hate Speech

December 20, 2018

On the evening of December 6, community members, staff, and students received an email from Principal Charlie Hollerith regarding our building and district’s vehement denouncement of a recent act of hate. The following morning, the daily announcements featured a similar message, denouncing hate speech and intolerance and emphasizing the importance of inclusivity.


“Any time we become made aware of these situations we investigate, and there’s two pieces to that. One is taking the appropriate disciplinary action and then the other piece is to continue education and to make sure future events do not occur,” said Principal Charlie Hollerith. “Our Student Global Leaders are a big part of equity and inclusion, as they are spreading positive messages about how to become global citizens and to build an inclusive environment here. We continue to train teachers in that area and restorative practices go on in many classrooms. Students have the opportunity to talk about some of these issues and have meaningful dialogue around topics that are not always easy to discuss.”


As hate-fueled incidents are occurring more frequently and are being carried out by younger individuals, many schools across the country have been faced with the dual challenge of both responding to current issues of antisemitism and preventing future ones. Involving community groups and local leaders is one way to achieve both. Our building has been taking advantage of resources such as the Anti-Defamation League and local rabbis to aid with combating issues of hate among students.


“The Anti-Defamation League’s Allison Rosenfeld says their data shows a 94% rise in anti-Semitic incidents in K-12 schools. Teaching Tolerance tracks hate in schools based on media reports, and believes there is an increase in incidents of hate and bias in schools and that the majority of victims in schools were targeted because of their race, ethnicity or ancestry. As schools, we need to pay attention to all incidents of hate,” said district administrator for social emotional learning and educational equity Margaret Schultz.


Local rabbis working closely with the district explain the importance of realizing that the issue of hate is not specific to any minority group.


“I think that in Bloomfield Hills specifically, the anti-Semitism that we are seeing is not really based on pure hatred. I don’t think that the students of Bloomfield Hills schools are intentionally targeting the Jewish community. I am not sure that it’s really actual hatred that we are fighting,” said Rabbi Josh Bennett of Temple Israel. “The more that we work as a school district and as a community towards having people get to know one another and [becoming] aware of our similarities and our differences, the better we will be in combating the kind of anti-bias moments that we have been dealing with in schools right now that should not be there.”


Although our building’s use of technology has been remarkable for learning and growth inside the classroom, students intermittently abuse their technology privileges. Having access to social media platforms nearly all day provides an opportunity for students to misuse technology. Often, students do not understand the repercussions of their actions online, as it is much easier for messages and ideas to be spread throughout the building.


“One of the big roles that social media plays is that it allows information to be spread very rapidly. When a video is made, or a message is sent, it can be out to the entire community/world in a matter of minutes. The rapid pace of information can allow a lot of people to be harmed in a short amount of time, even if there was not intention to do so,” said Schultz. “The first thing that schools do is investigate the situation in order to understand what has happened. As an educational institution, our goal is always to help students learn. So, we have to look at each incident individually to determine what the discipline will be, and we always try to work with students and families to repair the harm that has been caused.”


While work within the school community continues, local leaders also emphasize the important influence of engaging in this work at home. According to Hollerith, family resources have been added to our district’s home page, which includes anti-bias, diversity, and discrimination resources.


“I think that education and inclusion and promoting love and tolerance starts at home and in smaller communities. I think that the way we combat it [anti-Semitism] in schools is by providing lots of opportunities for different types of people to get to know each other,” said Rabbi Jen Lader of Temple Israel. “When kids are taught to accept people who are different and their values, they are more likely to get to high school with a truer sense of what it means to be part of a greater community; it is important to them to be part of a whole community as part of who they are. I think this is true with all of our different minority groups and majority groups in Detroit; that makes Detroit so special. To recognize that Detroit in itself is an important place, and we are not in competition with each other for anything.”


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