Email sent to parents regarding math class and police incident


An email sent out by Headmaster Deborah Holman on Friday, March 11.

Valentina Rojas, Arts Writing Editor

On Friday, March 11 Headmaster Deborah Holman sent an email to parents and staff. In the email she addressed both the junior math class incident and the altercation between police and students. She also commended the high school for “more publicly examining institutional racism, bias and privilige,” as stated in the email.


To: BHS Parents/Guardians

From: Deborah Holman, Headmaster

Date: March 11, 2016

I want to inform you about two incidents that have occurred at BHS in the last week.  As you know, for over a year, Brookline High has been deliberately and more publicly examining institutional racism, bias and privilege.  I wholeheartedly believe that this is the right work to be doing and at the right time.  In many ways we have begun to change the discourse about power and privilege and opportunities at BHS.  Many students from all backgrounds have joined in this conversation and sometimes are leading it.  On many levels our conversations mirror the changing discourse that we are witnessing at the national level.  By opening up these important conversations, both locally and nationally, much good has resulted but also much tension.  However, while Brookline High is reaping the good, we are also not immune from the tension.  On that note, I would like to be transparent about some challenges and successes of our week.

First, I will share information on an ongoing classroom investigation related to offensive language use.  A teacher had a recent incident that involved the projection of inappropriate and offensive language during a teacher-sanctioned online quiz game called “Kahoot.”  Students, via cell phone, choose usernames anonymously and the names are projected to the board.  Some projected usernames were offensive, both misogynist and racist.  One of the usernames was “I hate blacks.” Another was an offensive sexual reference against females.  The primary problem and biggest concern is the offensive language used and its impact on all individuals in a classroom and in the school.  Use of offensive language, especially targeted hate speech, is unacceptable at Brookline High.

Our investigation included immediate reprimand of the class, student interviews, communication to parents, and extensive work with the teacher and department head.  We have also worked with the online provider to trace the usernames.  We certainly recognize our greater responsibility in using these online platforms and the increased need to coach students repeatedly on ethical use of technology as outlined in the BHS Handbook.  I will be addressing the use of offensive language school-wide next week at our  “Asking For Courage Day” on March 17.

I will also share with you an incident from Tuesday when Brookline Police officers were exiting the building after a meeting with BHS administrators.  As they exited at dismissal time, one officer saw some students rough-housing amongst a group of students of color and thought a fight was breaking out.  He intervened physically with one student, and the situation escalated until BHS staff members arrived on the scene.  Other students had gathered around, and it became a confusing and concerning situation for everyone.  Staff and students have debriefed and processed the event.  Dean Anthony Meyer and I immediately met with the Chief of Police and officers involved in order to share views and protocols for intervention.  One of our key concerns is about building a positive relationship between Brookline High School and the Brookline Police Department, so we are devising informal gatherings between police, students, and BHS staff with that goal in mind.

Incidents such as these have happened in high schools, including Brookline High, for decades.  Sometimes they were minimized, suppressed or ignored.  We choose – sometimes led by our students – not to minimize or suppress what is happening in our school community.  Sometimes that is not pretty.  Sometimes that brings television cameras to our doors.  But I believe that also leads to better young men and young women walking out of our school after four years of being a member of the BHS community.

On a brighter note, our new “Lunch and Learn Series” has become a productive forum for students, faculty, and administrators to discuss school-wide issues of equity and diversity.  Yesterday’s ninety-minute discussion on “school culture and discipline” was a place to work through the week’s events, hear student concerns and critiques, and share and explain administrative moves and choices so that students could better understand them.

We are a politically and socially engaged high school, for the better.  Our challenge is figuring out how we are going to be together as a community now that we are engaged in the right conversations about power, privilege, race and diversity.  Brookline High continues to take on these challenges, to create venues for action and discussion, and to learn from mistakes and successes.  My belief is that we must become an even better school for all of our students, and my hope is that we move together toward that goal.

As we work toward improving our school and town community, please join BHS this spring at our events in the “BHS 2020 Spring Series.”  I will send you a separate email newsletter detailing these opportunities.  Please feel free to respond to me with any questions or suggestions.