Accountability added around racist incidents

Acalanes District reacts to social media posts

After racist and derogatory social media posts made by students in the Acalanes Union High School District about people of color were discovered last summer, students, teachers and officials demanded more accountability about racist incidents.

 As a result, the district created a new system that encourages safer campuses across all five school sites, Including Acalanes, Miramonte, Campolindo and Las Lomas high schools plus the district’s center for independent study. 

   The system is designed to take stronger action toward bias and hateful acts. It was inaugurated at the beginning of this  school year for students and teachers to report any instances of racist or discriminatory behavior to a Bias Incident Reporting Team. 
   “It came about as a district-wide decision,” Acalanes Principal Travis Bell said, “and it really happened after the murder of George Floyd and some of the local demonstrations and marches for racial justice that happened in Walnut Creek, Lafayette, and other places. [It] sparked a conversation with our Associate Superintendent of Human Resources and Student Services…who knew we needed a system to keep record of these bias incidents that happen on our campus.”    
The bias reporting team allows students and teachers to report any acts of hate speech, discrimination, or racism through a Google Form on the school’s website. Once someone reports an incident, a member of the team reaches out to provide them with emotional support and resources. 
   “Especially when we are in high school, it can be really harmful. It takes a lot for people to withstand those [bias incidents] so it helps to be able to have someone to help you process those thoughts,” Acalanes Wellness Counselor Allen Choi said.  
   The team, composed of teachers, administrators, and Wellness Staff, meets once a week to discuss reported incidents, actions taken, and ways to address the staff and community. 
   “There is a team of people and every week we go over the different incidents that happen and then we come up with [the] next steps.” Acalanes Guidance Counselor and team member Marissa Meadows said.  
   During its meetings, the committee also decides whether the perpetrator of the act requires disciplinary action, restorative practices, or both. Restorative practices include educating the offender, while disciplinary action is a much more severe punishment such as losing the ability to participate in school activities.  
   “We are trying to take a more restorative approach but obviously there are certain things, I believe, that would require punishment,” Meadows said.  
   To create more transparency between the reporter and the committee, a team member will also communicate with the reporting student or teacher once the committee makes a recommendation on the required actions. 
   “It is a very good thing that the incident team, actually circles back to the person who was offended from an act because it provides a way for students to receive answers,” Acalanes junior Sylvia Deng said.  
   The team tracks the data on the reports monthly, so different school sites can see the areas of racial equity they most need to work on. In August and September, there were 15 reports, with the bias reporting team deciding 11 required restorative practice and four needed disciplinary action.   
   “We have put together amongst the five [school] sites a forum that will give details and data from each month and it will track the reports that come through and we are going to [put it on our website] at the beginning of each month,” Associate Principal Andrea Powers said. 

   Once the bias reporting team makes a recommendation, school administration will implement the punishment. However, if either party involved in the report disagrees with the outcome, there is a formal appeal process to the district’s Associate Superintendent of Administrative Services, Amy McNamara.

   Most students met the new system with positive feedback. 
   “This allows students more protection and also lets them feel more secure in a school setting. I think the school creating something like this is very beneficial to our student body,” junior Caroline Crossland said.  
   However, some worry about the effect the system will have on school culture because of the remote nature of reporting and the belief that educating people about the negative effects of bias should be paramount.   

   “[The bias reporting system] has the potential to help people feel safer and deal with these issues more quickly and efficiently, but I don’t think the reporting system by itself is going to improve the school. If you want to create change, you’ve got to go to the source, which is the people,” senior Lynne Zhao said.  
   Still, students believe the Bias Incident Reporting System will hold students and teachers more accountable while helping to create a more racially equitable school.  
   “I think this general awareness the school has been working to develop with the combination of the reporting system … is going to improve the environment at school,” Zhao said.