November 24, 2021 By Carol Britton Meyer
"Hate has no place in the Hingham Public Schools," was Interim Supt. of Schools Gary Maestas' clear message to the community on Tuesday in response to "an uptick in the reporting of racially-charged comments and social media posts" made by students at both the Hingham Middle School and Hingham High School.
He started out the email on a high note, acknowledging the successful return to educational routines by students, faculty, and staff during the ongoing pandemic, noting, "I am truly grateful that we have come to the end of the first quarter and we are experiencing success."
That said, Maestas went on to share the "concerning information" about the racially-charged comments and social media posts, which he said "have harmed members of our educational community and have violated our core values as a school district."
The HPS district is committed to fostering a zero-tolerance environment for issues of this kind as explained in the recently-completed, 53-page HPS Equity & Inclusion Plan. The idea is to start implementation in 2021-2022, with a focus on developing a sense of belonging among all members of the school community.
"We will be working with our students to develop an understanding that their words and actions have a significant impact on others," Maestas stated in the email.
"Our educational community has made a significant commitment to being a welcoming and inclusive environment for all students. We will continue to work to foster an environment where all students feel accepted and supported regardless of background and know, without a doubt, that they belong."
As an educator, Maestas said he has witnessed many issues that need an "all-hands-on-deck attitude" and that this is one of those moments. "I call on each member of our community to partner with the district to educate our children on how words can impact others. The comments and social media posts are detrimental to our combined mission of an inclusive community. We need to help people understand that in terms of zero-tolerance, they will be held accountable."
The Equity & Inclusion Plan is built upon a "restorative practices" foundation that is already underway, based upon building healthy relationships between educators and students; reducing, preventing, and improving harmful behavior; repairing harm and restoring positive relationships; resolving conflict; holding individuals and groups accountable; and addressing and discussing the needs of the entire school community.
"We want to use that sense of community to take a different approach [as opposed to punitive measures]," Asst. Supt. of Schools Jamie LaBillois said last fall when he presented the plan to the School Committee. "We're all members of the same community, and if someone's behavior has wronged someone else, it's incumbent on that person to right that wrong."
The overall goal in addressing this most recent issue is for the HPS and overall community, families, and organizations that promote diversity, equity, and inclusivity "that are trying to improve our community" to participate in a collaborative approach," Maestas told the Hingham Anchor. "This is not all on the backs of the schools." The Hingham Unity Council and the Commission on Disabilities have already reached out to offer their support.
It's important for students to realize the impacts their comments have on others and that when they post such remarks on social media, "they are putting a spotlight on themselves. I'm not sure people realize the power social media has, on both the negative and positive side," Maestas said.
In his letter to the school community, he expressed the hope "that we can work as partners to support our students in making good decisions that will advance the district’s mission and core values."
The Hingham Anchor will be following this issue. Watch for updates.