The red cup video stirred up a lot of activity and emotions. There was talk about how or whether to discipline kids who were acting up off-campus and how to approach the subject of hate.

For help, the district turned to Orange County Human Relations (OCHR), an established and well-regarded non-profit whose tagline is “Building community by fostering respect, resolving conflict, and pursuing equality.”

Lofty goals, to be sure.

Today marks 60 days since the video surfaced. Not an anniversary to celebrate, of course, but also not one to be ignored. If anything, today is a good day to remember what happened and assess the progress.

The red cup video is not the problem, it is a symptom. The problem is twofold. The first and most important is the rise in hate incidents around the world. I have made the case, for example, that the past couple of years have been the most dangerous time for Jews around the world since WWII. But the recent bombing of churches in Sri Lanka and the mosque in New Zealand have made a liar out of me.

The sad truth is that it doesn’t matter what color your skin, what faith you practice, or what gender partner you prefer, the people who hate you feel more free than any time in recent memory to express themselves.

That’s the larger of the two problems.

The other one, not much smaller, is the ability of these haters to spread their doctrines so quickly and easily. For all of its social worth, the Internet is also dangerous.

Regardless of how we choose to approach the problem, we will not end hate and we must understand that ending hate is not the goal. That is much too large a problem and far beyond the scope of our little school district.

And we are not going to shut down the Internet or even restrict student access on or off campus. That toothpaste is out of the tube.

With some problems caused by people, ignoring them is often the best approach because getting attention is exactly what the person or people seek. The Internet has made a prophet out of Andy Warhol and we are now all able to get our 15 minutes of fame.

But the red cup video cannot and should not be ignored. Kids need and want boundaries – they have expressed as much in multiple surveys over the years. If we do not tell them that their expression of hate was wrong, who will?

So, the idea of a district Task Force was created for the purpose of making recommendations to the school board. That’s what we were told. So far, that is all we have been told.

The fact that there is no deadline for submitting the recommendations, for example, is one problem facing the creation of the Task Force. I’m not used to absent deadlines. Yesterday, for example, I received a new project from an existing client. My last question to the head of the company before we got off the phone was, “When do you need this?”

That’s how it works in the rest of the world. We run on the clock and feel time pressure every day, even every hour of every day.

Then there is the size of the Task Force: Anyone who submits an application will be a member. When I read this, I thought immediately of the goofy initial structure of the district’s bond oversight committee, which was to be composed of about 30 people. In a Daily Pilot column almost 20 years ago, I pointed out the folly of this gargantuan committee and suggested that it be pared down. Time proved me right and the committee is down to about seven.

To be effective, a committee should have a firm structure. While the inclusivity of the Task Force is well-intentioned and appreciated, it could easily result in an unwieldy body that cannot reach a consensus. At the very least, the final report will probably have to have a disclaimer informing the board that not all of the Task Force members agree on all recommendations.

Next up is the calendar. There are two tracks for meeting and learning. One track is a series of community workshops, the first of which addressed implicit bias and was held on April 24. The final community workshop will be held on August 14. No purpose or goal of the workshops was stated, so it is my assumption that they are strictly for providing information on human relations challenges and solutions.

The other track is the Task Force meetings. The first was held on April 17 and the last one will be held on June 12.

So, there you have it: Valuable information on human relations – which we received in the second half of last week’s workshop – will continue long after the last Task Force meeting. It seems to me that these calendars should have been flipped, that is, the workshop information should have been provided before the final Task Force meeting so that it could be considered in the final recommendations to the school board.

But that’s just me.

As it is, the Task Force will meet five times over two months, with the next meeting scheduled for May 8 at 6 p.m. in the Sanborn Assembly Room at district HQ.

If the Task Force ends on June 12 as planned, they will not be presenting their recommendations to the school board until the fall. That’s because the last board meeting before the summer break is on June 25 and it will take some time for the Task Force to create its final report.

On the district’s website, the recap of the April 17 Task Force meeting states that the Task Force will meet for “approximately six months,” but that’s not what my meeting calendar shows. The calendar we were given shows the last meeting on June 12. Perhaps there is some poorly worded content there but my calendar clearly shows the aforementioned two tracks of community workshops and Task Force meetings and if the workshops are part of the Task Force meeting obligations, it should state as much.

But ultimately, it’s a moot point. Either way, we’re looking at possibly six months after the red cup incident before the school board receives the recommendations from the Task Force.

Too slow.

The Task Force is also suffering from a lack of publicity, which was apparent in the community workshop meeting of April 24. The room was set up to handle far more attendees than the folks who showed up. The room should have been packed, but it was far from crowded.

The issue of student hate is arguably one of the two most important challenges facing the district in the 33 years I have lived in the area. Updates and commentary should be provided to all N-M residents on at least a weekly basis, if not more. The superintendent should be front and center and vocal on this issue, but he is not. Once again – continuing a pattern he established with his first crisis several years ago – he has delegated the responsibility to a member of his cabinet.

The Task Force and the Workshops need a jolt of publicity now and until it has completed its mission.

The state of public awareness today: Too low.

All of this – all of it – is yet another indication of the poor leadership at the very top of the administration. The superintendent has failed to understand both the magnitude of the problem and the tremendous opportunity we have to condemn and control student hate.

This is not the prom draft.

Steve Smith

 

 

 

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