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Important update: incident of hate/bias on our campus

May 28 Update:

Dear Rio Americano students and families,

While our investigation into the Nazi flag display in a Rio Americano classroom is still ongoing, we feel it is important to share with you what steps the site has taken to respond to cultural and equity concerns on campus. We would also like to share plans about the development of our site equity team and how student voice will drive the team. It is always our goal to do better for students and our community and we will continue our work.

As the school year comes to a close, we are prioritizing actions and plans to gather more voice from our students on the topic of culture and equity before we part for the summer. We are working with student groups to have listening sessions to gather student experiences and ideas on steps needed at Rio Americano to make the culture more inclusive for all. The equity team will use the information gathered in these sessions to continue our work and develop next steps. We have also received support and shared information with our staff from community partners including, the Anti-Defamation League, Central Valley Holocaust Educator’s Network, and Learning for Justice. This summer, staff will have the opportunity to engage in professional development to extend their learning on culture and equity.

We are learning how to better address issues of bias and hate and will continue to do so in the future. Over the past two years, Rio Americano staff has engaged in a variety of professional development in the area of diversity, equity and inclusion. In the 2019-2020 school year, staff worked with EPOCH Education throughout the year to learn how to interrupt incidence of bias and hate. We partnered with our district equity department to hold community forums, where families, students, and staff listened to students’ lived experiences and developed actions including the formation of the Rio BSU, inclusion of Ethnic Studies in Rio’s course offerings and providing professional development to staff.

One of the first actions of the BSU was the creation of a survey on culture and climate by the students. The school assisted in the implementation of the survey and 1,200 students responded. This data will be used to inform our site equity team. In the 2020-2021 school year, Rio Americano staff participated in the district equity professional development as well as outside workshops on increasing equitable practices on our site.

Finally, the development of our site equity team will begin with students. Since student voice and student’s lived experience is extremely important to us at Rio Americano, the site equity team will be made up of mostly students. The remainder of the team will consist of staff and parents. We look forward to this important work and hope we have all of your support as we continue this journey.

We are here to answer your questions and gather feedback. As more information becomes available, we will reach out to you again.

Thank you,

Brian T. Ginter

Principal RAHS

 

May 19 Update:

Dear Rio Americano Community,

I wanted to provide you with an update on the use of a Nazi flag in one of our classes at Rio Americano High School. This incident has brought to the surface many feelings about what we teach our students and how we teach those topics to our students. We have had feedback from our Jewish community that has both condemned the use of Nazi symbols in the educational setting and those who feel the use can be educationally appropriate. Regardless of your stance, San Juan Unified School District and Rio Americano High School will be taking action, that is described below, to move forward. 

The teacher in this instance has used flags from Nazi Germany as an instructional aid in past years as part of classroom lessons. Site administration has previously expressed concerns to the teacher related to this practice and it is not reflective of where we are as a school community. In recent discussions with the teachers’ union leadership, they have made it clear they support safe and inclusive environments for students, and do not support the teacher’s use of this flag in this context.

Our district’s and our school’s understanding of inclusion continues to evolve and improve and we are committed to addressing and removing hate in our schools. While images and symbols representative of hate may be used in textbooks and resource materials to provide historical context, displaying a flag with a swastika in such an egregious manner was unnecessary and created an unsafe environment for students. As we move forward, and in alignment with San Juan Unified’s 8-point Commitment to Educational Justice, we will create an equity team on Rio Americano’s campus that will have parents, students and staff represented to help make sure we are educating our students and staff in the most safe and inclusive way possible.

The teacher in question has been placed on administrative leave until the investigation has concluded. 

We are also always looking at curriculum standards and the framework. Our focus when teaching lessons grounded in history is to provide historically accurate content in a safe and inclusive environment for students. In this particular instance, it is not wrong to have conversations about propaganda tactics in Nazi Germany, but there is a better way to do so without prominently displaying a symbol of hate in the classroom.

Please reach out to me with any questions. 

Thank you,

Brian T. Ginter

Principal RAHS

 

May 18 Update:

Good afternoon Rio Americano families, students and staff,

Last week a teacher had several flags from Germany on display in their class, including a flag from Nazi Germany, as part of a lesson. The Nazi flag is a long-standing symbol of hate and does not represent the culture and values of our school or our district. The symbolism of these flags is deplorable and we denounce it - hate has no place at our school.

A full investigation is currently underway into this incident. We are looking into why the teacher thought the flags were appropriate to use and ensuring both the instructor involved and others understand that this is not an acceptable way to teach any curriculum. The flags were removed from the classroom last week.

We, as a school community, stand for respect and inclusion. Rio Americano is a place where all are free to learn in a safe and welcoming environment. This reinforces the importance of the ongoing work that Rio started in 2019 after incidents of hate and bias. It is an opportunity for continued education and the building of a more inclusive climate and culture at Rio and throughout the district. 

We are working to create a safe space for students to share their impact and we will have more details to share soon with students and families. Additionally, we are putting together resources and materials for Rio Americano staff to use in having conversations in their classrooms with students. 

Thank you for your continued support and for being a part of the Rio community. Please reach out to me directly if you have any questions.

Thank you,

Principal Brian Ginter