The “Culture of Kindness” resolution was dictated by an unelected community member, “typed” and introduced by board member Jonas, and passed by a majority (not unanimous) vote. We were all taken by surprise and a little frightened about what it meant for our students. Especially since many of the board members do not appear to have a vested interest in the success of our schools, or students attending the Forest Hills School District (FHSD) themselves, and they seem preoccupied with the “culture war” topic du jour.
As FHSD parents, one thing that we have kept an eye on in the wake of the resolution is the protection of our student’s first amendment rights. For instance, in the case of the student-led walkout over the cancellation of Diversity Day, a portion of students left Turpin and Anderson high schools quietly without disrupting class and exercised their right to peaceful assembly. Since art is a form of speech, we also kept an eye on the murals throughout the buildings. In particular, the Nagel mural about diversity that was painted (with permission) by students has become a symbol of belonging to future students in the years to come.
The diversity mural has been covered by a large banner before the start of the 2023-24 school year to the dismay of some parents and students. We have been told by school leadership that banners have been installed as part of an overall strategy to create a culture where staff can be more proactive, less reactive, and more … inclusive.
The banners are reported to be part of the visual implementation of the “Culture Blueprint — Every Moment Matters.” It is based on a concept called the “R Factor” that has been used by other top, inclusive school districts such as Mason and Wyoming City Schools. The First step is grounding staff in the concept. Then, students will become more involved. 36 staffers across disciplines participated in creating the “Culture Blueprint” and are very excited to implement it this school year.
Are the banners permanent?
Yes, administrators say they are intended to be permanent. It takes time to foster a safe and inclusive atmosphere for students, but that is their goal.
Is the student-made mural still there?
Yes, the mural still exists behind the banner. School leaders that spoke to us said they want to honor student voices and preserve student artwork. We have been told they are working on a solution to do both. In fact, they say honoring student voices is part of the new “Culture Blueprint.”
Why was it placed on that wall in the first place?
The reason we were given was that the print company in charge of implementing the new initiative into the physical spaces of the schools recommended stairwells to school leaders because of high traffic and visibility.
Could there have been more communication about this upfront?
Yes. That would have helped. Without upfront communication, we are left with assumptions based on our past experiences. The cancellation of Diversity Day and the “Culture of Kindness” resolution has eroded trust in the district.
We recognize change is inevitable, even for things that we cherish. We hope that the initiative truly is centered around inclusivity and belonging in a way that NO student feels erased or the need to hide who they are. We acknowledge the willingness to work to find a way to ensure the mural is honored in other ways and students in the LGBTQ+ and neurodivergent communities continue to see imagery and symbols within the schools that reinforce the behaviors that the “Every Moment Matters” culture is said to reinforce.
Thank you to administrators for answering all of our questions. It is a necessary step in rebuilding trust. We will be keeping an eye on how they choose to honor student voices and the mural. Advocate FHSD will follow up and ask for a timeline to resolve the issue. We will continue to update our blog when we have new information.
If you would like to show solidarity for the Nagel students, we have created a high resolution digital version of the mural for printing stickers, t-shirts, signs, etc. Feel free to download the image file for free using the link below.
The views and opinions expressed by individuals and entities on this blog are their own and do not reflect the views or positions of AdvocateFHSD.org.
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