Lunch and Learn: Faculty discusses police and math class incidents with students

Headmaster+Deborah+Holman+sits+on+the+floor+during+an+E-block+Lunch+and+Learn+discussion+about+race-related+incidents+at+the+high+school.

Sam Klein/Sagamore staff

Headmaster Deborah Holman sits on the floor during an E-block Lunch and Learn discussion about race-related incidents at the high school.

Valentina Rojas, Arts Writing Editor

On Thursday, March 10 a Lunch and Learn was held during the entirety of E-block. Around 40 students, almost entirely students of color, and several administrators were present during a discussion about the event outside of the school on Tuesday, March 8 and an incident in a math class on Friday, March 4.

The main grievance of students throughout the meeting, voiced multiple times, was the way in which the issues had been handled. Students felt that the difference in communication between the two events led to different portrayals. On March 4,  in a junior math class, derogatory and inappropriate phrases appeared as usernames during a game of Kahoot. On March 8, police broke up what they believed to be a fight between students. The incident on the steps was publicized via an email to the faculty and written about by the Sagamore the next day, while the incident in the math class was kept private and not covered by the Sagamore until a week later.

Throughout, students asked questions which were addressed by Headmaster Deborah Holman and the deans.

According to Holman, she sent an email to the entire staff after the police incident.

“It is always a judgement call. I decided to tell teachers out of concern for students with the right or wrong information. I informed the teachers that police intervened and that students may talk about it,” Holman said. “The math class incident communication was a little trickier because of the anonymity of online games such as Kahoot.”

Holman answers questions from students about the police and math class incidents.
Sam Klein/Sagamore Staff
Holman answers questions from students about the police and math class incidents.

According to Holman, she sent out an email to Curriculum Coordinators so that they could discuss the topic at their next meeting. She said that an email regarding the math incident had not been sent out to the whole staff.

According to senior Ronique Williams, the way in which the incident that occurred on the front steps of the high school was communicated to the entire staff made it seem as if there were “Black hoodlums running around.”

Williams said publicizing an event involving a police altercation with students of color but maintaining secrecy about the incident in the math class, which according to Dean Scott Butchart contained mostly White students, was the “tarnishing of the image of one race while the protecting of the image of another.”

According to Holman and Meyer, the main reason why the two incidents were handled differently and why the communication was different was because the police incident was in public, surrounded by people, while the math class incident was in a private space.

Holman sent out an email to staff and parents, addressing both incidents and mentioning this Lunch and Learn specifically as well as race at the high school in general on Friday March 11.

Holman said that ideally, the teacher of the math class would have seen the names, kept the students in class and called the deans to intervene immediately. However, the teacher did not keep the class late to speak to them. According to junior Stewie Silvestri, who was in the class, the teacher spoke to the students who laughed the most about the incident. She notified deans by email immediately after the class, according to Butchart.

Junior Adrian Johnson said he had concerns about the adequacy of the consequences the people responsible for the usernames in the math class will face and said he was also concerned that it would just be labeled a technology problem as opposed to a race problem.                                    

Junior Adrian Johnson (left) listening to the discussion between students and administrators.
Sam Klein/Sagamore staff
Junior Adrian Johnson (left) listening to the discussion between students and administrators.

Holman, Meyer and Butchart all responded by assuring Johnson and the group that the math class incident will not be labeled as an abuse of technology. Holman added that the “technology offense is only secondary to the primary offense, which is improper language.”

A student proposed reprimanding the entire class to reveal the students who committed the offense. But Butchart said he felt it was unfair to the students who were innocent. According to him, he wrote to all of the parents of the students in the class and didn’t want to punish those who were innocent.

Williams said she believed that the lack of communication about the math class incident led to a lack of accountability because most people in the school don’t know about it, but the police incident had circulated within a day and painted an indecorous picture of young Black students.

One student was upset that the teacher of the math class was not reprimanded, believing that more could have been done.

Butchart replied by stating that the teacher and the class do feel like they are on the “hot seat” and being held accountable.

The question and answer session turned to the scuffle between police and students in the vestibule.

Junior Sophie Strassman, who was not present but had seen the video posted by the Sagamore, questioned the need for physical intervention.

Dean Anthony Meyer responded by stating that he could not speak for the police department, but that he knew that they had been trained differently than educators. He said that educators would have used their voices because they are more familiar with students and they can better gauge when students are just horsing around as opposed to actually fighting.

When Meyer spoke to the police afterwards they explained to him their perspective on the situation.

“They told me they saw a potentially violent situation and reacted in accordance to their training,” Meyer said.

Dean Melanee Alexander added by asking the students questions about their accusations.

“How were they supposed to assess? They were in an unfamiliar situation with unfamiliar people, we have to give them latitude. We have to understand their assumptions,” Alexander said.

Freshman Kaya Andrews said she felt that if people in positions of authority took responsibility for actions that upset members of the community, student confidence in them would increase.

Holman said she wants to make an effort to have an officer who interacts with the student body often at the high school again. She feels that because the high school has not had a permanent officer in the building for the last two years, the high school has suffered.

Towards the end of the meeting, METCO Coordinator Keith Lezama said that as a young person of color especially, it is important to obey commands given to you by police officers. He also asked the room to consider how the teacher was feeling at the time, as he said she was most likely not comfortable in this situation.

“She was scared to deal with race in class, she doesn’t know what she’s dealing with. I’m sure if she could go back, she would do everything she could to find out who the students were. It’s hard,” Lezama said. “For folks of color, we don’t have to worry about being called racist.”

Correction: The teacher in whose class the Kahoot incident occurred notified deans by email immediately after the incident occurred.