In light of events of the past week, Mr. Erik Gundersen, the Superintendent of Schools in the Pascack Valley Regional High School District, and Mr. Tom DeMaio, principal of Pascack Valley High School, are meeting with the Anti-Defamation League, a group that specializes in promoting tolerance, on Thursday to determine a course of action. They plan to discuss the recent event at Pascack Valley and how to proceed in the future, including education on what exactly white supremacy is.
Last Monday, the PV Human Rights League published an open letter in The Smoke Signal addressing white supremacist actions at Pascack Valley by students who are allegedly racially, religiously, and gender biased. The letter has received strong reaction and press attention throughout northern New Jersey.
Gundersen feels that some of the press is inflating the situation in a negative manner.
“I think, unfortunately, that the press has taken rumors and reported on them as though they are facts,” Gundersen said Sunday.
According to a letter Gundersen sent to Pascack Valley parents Friday afternoon, there are two documented incidents of swastikas drawn in the school — one on a “small piece of paper” that was discovered in a classroom and another found on a door in a stairwell. Both occurred “several months ago,” the letter stated.
In the wake of the attention, the administration has taken swift action in disciplining five students for “inappropriate use of racially charged language and/or behavior,” according to the letter. The letter also stated that “two students are no longer attending Pascack Valley High School.”
Since first receiving word of white supremacy signs being flashed at sporting events, Gundersen and the rest of the administration have examined pictures and videos from several games in order to determine perpetrators. They’ve also looked at social media.
“The issue with social media is that there’s only so much we can do with regards to disciplining students in school if students are posting beliefs about racism,” Gundersen said. “We have to balance carefully their rights to free speech.”
They’ve yet to find people who have displayed these signs, nor have they found who drew the swastikas, and the investigation of both is ongoing.
“We’re working closely with the police,” Gundersen said, “to deal with any instances whether it’s on social media or school.”
Over the next couple weeks, students should expect to receive messages urging them to report racist, anti-religious, or sexist behavior. Morning announcements on tolerance are in the works, and there will also be a focus on discussions in and out of class.
The student government has created a banner to help get students to renew their commitment to respecting the Valley. Gundersen feels the upcoming Valley Cup assembly Friday will also help bring people together.
“I think you’ll see a major theme throughout the next year,” Gundersen said, “about racial, religious, and sexual acceptance and tolerance.”
While the administration is bound to protect their students and, because of an obligation to keep personal information confidential, cannot reveal specific punishments given to specific students, they have heard students’ requests to stay informed.
“I think the frustration is that students have felt as though they haven’t been completely aware of everything that has been done,” Gundersen said. “You can expect that we will definitely be in greater communication with the overall school community.”
Gundersen commended the Human Rights League for addressing the public and students for reacting in such an exceptional manner. He also stated hope that students will continue productive discussions both online and in class.
“The students who are exhibiting signs of racial bias are still our students,” Gundersen said, “and we hope to have a positive impact on them, to make them understand and become more tolerant.”