The Bar-On Brief: Effective conversations lead to effective change

The takeaway from this week’s community discussion

Photo by Shauli Bar-On

Photo by Shauli Bar-On

By Shauli Bar-On , Columnist

The Bar-On Brief: A weekly column
The Bar-On Brief: A weekly column

Principal Greg Giglio, FHS Principal Bryan Emmert and District Superintendent Polly Bove hosted a community conversation at FHS on Monday “in light of recent events at FHS and HHS,” a flyer read. The panel was composed of representatives from the FBI, Jewish Community Center, Anti-Defamation League, Instagram, Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney’s Office.

Most parents at the meeting approved of how the situation was handled from an investigative standpoint. It takes nit-pickiness to find complaints here: the suspect was arrested before the end of the weekend, a number of hours after the incident was reported to the police.

Cooperation between the officers and school administrators could not have been better, and collaboration with Instagram was as effective as could be.

Many concerns were, however, were directed to the school administration side of the table.

Parents said the school staff should have met with students about the situation, that they should have released more information. Many members of the community have been kept in the dark. While parents received a broad email before and after the arrest, students only received the notice about a suspect being detained.

“I feel like I’m in a vacuum,” one parent said.

Photo by Shauli Bar-On

To clarify, in a juvenile case, neither the school nor the police is allowed to give specific details about the case. Previous screenshots posted by The Epitaph are nothing compared to the threats reported to the police department, Captain Shawn Ahearn said.

We saw a “viable threat to the safety of those students. [This incident] hit that level,” Ahearn said.

The specific content cannot be shared with the public by the police because the investigation is pending. When the case is over, much of the evidence may be made public.

Nonetheless, parents wanted a school-wide discussion about handling hatred.

Students may very well benefit from an open-forum discussion, and it appears as if the administration has taken this point to heart. On Wednesday, a school-wide message was announced over the loudspeaker. It was, in part, an apology to us, the students:

“I want to take a few moments this morning to address a situation that occurred at Fremont and at Homestead high schools several weeks ago. As some of you may know, what we believe to have been a serious hate crime was committed, with threats to students at Fremont and Homestead posted on social media. While the district worked closely with law enforcement to determine the source of these threats, to protect the safety of all students at our high schools and to communicate about these events with parents, we regret that we did not directly address this situation with you, our students…”

The full message can be read here. More details will be discussed with the public in the upcoming Principal’s message, Giglio wrote. 

The staff were made aware of what the community wants, and they have begun taking action. That was the whole point of this meeting.

“What really makes change is involvement from the community,” superintendent Polly Bove said.  

The district is in the process of working with the Anti-Defamation League to build a curriculum to address the situation as well as hatred in general.

A realistic goal, as agreed on by members of the panel, is to draft a possible curriculum plan by the end of the Jewish high holidays in late October.

“I can’t promise you this will never happen again,” Bove said. “I can promise you we’ll do everything we can so this never happens again.”

Recognition for the district and its staff is well deserved. The school had no obligation to schedule a meeting earlier this week. But the fact that one took place anyway shows how much our administrators and community members care about the well-being of students.

As Bove said in addressing criticism to a particular side of the table, everyone must realize the table is connected. I have no doubt that everyone sitting before me on Monday was listening and will continue listening to the community’s concerns. They will continue working together to ensure my security and comfort.

My takeaway from the meeting is the following: it’s okay to demand more — that’s how progress is made — but it’s just as necessary to credit those who are willing to listen.

And with that, I rest my case.

The Bar-On Brief is a weekly column that runs Thursdays. 

Follow Shauli Bar-On on Twitter @shauli_baron