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Hate speech incidents concern AHS community

By Brendan Mills

A noose was found on the fence of the AHS tennis courts last month, and the news has sparked a renewed discussion about hate speech and acts of intolerance at school. Hoshmand Durani, Alameda Police Department’s Investigations Division Commander, said “we have not been able to identify any person(s) responsible for this incident.”

But it is unlikely that the investigation concerning the noose will ever identify a victim. Because, as principal Robert Ithurburn said, it was a “universal act” or as Durani put it, “no reported victims who have stated that there has been an interference with exercise of their civil rights because of actual or perceived characteristics.”  According to Durani, police have determined that this was an act directed at the whole community, rather than a specific individual, so the police the investigation is formally closed.

But such issues are not new to the Alameda campus. Last year there was at least one documented incident of a racially motivated act of intolerance.

Principal Robert Ithurburn faced criticism last year for not publicly disclosing incidents of insensitive speech and bullying on campus. And at a recent PTSA meeting, he faced renewed criticism from outraged parents for not disclosing this to the general community.

But Ithurburn has said his decision not to go public last spring was a mistake, and asked for the forgiveness of the community. “I can’t change the fact that I did not go public,” he said at the Sept. 19 meeting. In his defense, he said that his decision not to go public was because he did not want to “encourage copycat[s].”

But Ithurburn has moved to a policy of full disclosure earlier this year. After the noose was found on Sept. 5, Ithurburn sent out a robocall and a letter to all parents and students informing the community about the incident. Ithurburn later said that he changed his view because in the past, the “feelings of students were hurt” and he did not want that to happen again.

He received praise from parents for his new policy, and he promised to be more open about these incidents on campus if they happen in the future.

However, the principal is caught between a rock and a hard place. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) provides privacy protections for students at school. So even if he wanted to, Ithurburn would not be able to release the name or disciplinary proceedings of the culprit.

Although parents want to know what is going on in the community, the principal and school administrators are bound by law to uphold the privacy of all those involved.

More internally, Ithurburn said that the school has been “trying to create a more frequent opportunity for students to process” these incidents. The day after the noose was found, the On-Campus Suspension room was open to provide students with a place to go to talk about the incident. “We only had one student” go to that, said Ithurburn.

Ithurburn said that he is “worried about student indifference,” that might allow students to distance themselves from and normalize this type of incident. So in response to that and to help students feel safe to come forward, the administration has started a “See Something Say Something” folder. In an email to students, Dean Kai Dwyer said it was “in order to provide an anonymous space for you to report acts of hate and intolerance.”

In addition to the folder, Ithurburn is organizing a club response. He has called for the presidents of some of the school’s racial and religious minority clubs to come together. He hopes that this coalition of clubs can help to form a more unified response and develop innovative measures of prevention and education.

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The Oak Leaf, a product of the journalism class, is a vehicle of student expression and a public forum for the Alameda High School community.