Jun 4 2017

Retiring Teachers Saluted, Shade Proposal for Witter, Red-lining Discrimination at School Board: Anti-Discrimination Actions and Statements

May 24, 2017  – 5 reports  including opinions –

By Anna Schacker, Piedmont High School Senior –

On the evening of May 24, I attended a Piedmont Unified School District School Board meeting. The School Board meets every two weeks, with representatives from the Piedmont and Millennium High Schools’ ASB. The meeting begins with the representatives updating the School Board on recent events that have taken place at the high schools, such as sports games and ASB organized events. Then there is time for anyone who has submitted their name on a speaker card to speak in front of the Board on topics they want to draw attention to. In this specific meeting, the principal of Piedmont Middle School addressed all the teachers who were retiring at the end of this year. From Piedmont High School, both Ms. Simmons and Mr. Mahoney spoke about their retirement and were given gifts and a large round of applause.

Next, a middle school girl scout approached the stand to give her pitch on having shade over the bleachers at Witter Field. She felt that the bleachers get too hot during the day and cause fatigue and dehydration in athletes and their audiences. The Board happily heard her proposal, but also acknowledged that it may be unlikely due to the cost and time of the project.

Randall Booker, Superintendent of PUSD, spoke next on the school climate at Piedmont High School and Middle School. He brought up the concept of a ‘red line’, or a personal boundary, that some students fail to see or are passing without realizing it. Mr. Booker suggested that students need to both talk about their red lines and know how to protect them. He thought that starting a conversation in the classroom would encourage students to think more about theirs and others’ boundaries. In addition to students not always knowing how to discuss these topics, he noticed that teachers also feel uncomfortable discussing topics such as race in the classroom. So, over the summer, some of the teachers will take part in a training program that instructs them how to teach difficult topics in age-appropriate ways.

Once the floor was opened up to the speaker cards, a man named Samuel Daffner walked up to the stand. He had written a short speech addressing the recent acts of anti-semitism at Piedmont High School, where he has a daughter, who is a junior. Mr. Daffner was concerned about the degree of security at PHS, and people only treating the symptoms of the problem instead of looking for the root. Upon being interviewed by me, Daffner articulated that he was “concerned about how the School Board will handle the current situation of anti-semitism at PHS” and felt so strongly about it that he wanted to personally voice his concerns. He additionally stated that “there are certain decisions that the school has made over time which [he believes] have enabled an environment where anti-semitism is more likely.” While he felt that there are many “caring” and “concerned” people involved, and the School Board seemed “invested,” he also noted that he was surprised that “some of [the School Board] did not speak on the record at all.” Daffner is a big believer in having a community where he feels free to share his opinion alongside many others. However, to get his word out further, he plans to meet directly with School Board members, talk to his contact at ADL (Anti-Defamation League), and continue planning his move to Israel.

I personally feel that while the school has certainly taken huge steps in addressing the anti-semitism issue, there is still a lot more to be done. As a Jewish student at PHS, I have often felt like my experience is overlooked. I, along with several other Jewish students, have discussed an adjustment to the curriculum in regards to The Holocaust and other Jewish historical events. In my time in PHS history classes, I have felt like the curriculum was designed to make students feel distant from the events of The Holocaust, instead of feeling like America played an important role in harsh anti-semitism. It has become clear to me over the years that the history of Jewish Americans has not been taught sufficiently. Anti-semitism may seem to be less taboo because students are not aware of the horrid past of anti-semitism in America. With these slight alterations, we would hopefully be able to foster a more empathetic environment at PHS.


 By Sally Abel, Piedmont High School Senior – 

     On Wednesday, May 24th, the Board of Education gathered at the City Hall to discuss recent events and topics relating to the Piedmont Unified School District (PUSD). The meeting is open to the community and is held in order to keep the public informed on what is going on around the different schools. The School Board holds these meetings one to two times a month and the meetings seem to be well attended with many different parents and members of the community flowing in and out throughout the meeting.

    The major topics that were addressed during the meeting on Wednesday, May 24, 2017,  were surrounding the recent issues that Piedmont High School has encountered regarding the topic of hate speech, discrimination, and general misconduct among students. Additionally, as a celebratory measure, teachers within the PUSD who were embarking on their final days of teaching within the School District were honored by the School Board. Both Alisha Lewis and Max Miller, who are high school students involved in ASB at Piedmont High School and Millennium High School, talked about what had been recently going on at each of the schools, what the student body was up to, as well as things that the schools were looking forward to as the end of the school year approached.

    The major topic of hate speech and discrimination at the high schools was addressed from a multitude of perspectives. Many government officials spoke regarding the topic, and it was touched upon by a significant amount of the audience who chose to take the floor and share their thoughts regarding the recent events that have taken place at the high school.

     Superintendent Booker started off the conversation by telling a story that really opened his eyes to one of the major underlying issues contributing to the hate speech and insensitive language that has been going on throughout the School District. When driving his son to school one day, his son spontaneously asked him who Michael J. Fox was. Mr. Booker answered the question, seemingly satisfying his son’s curiosity, and his son continued to scroll through his phone. When Mr. Booker inquired as to why his son was wondering, his son answered, saying that he saw someone comment on social media “you type like Michael J. Fox.”  Mr. Booker asked his son if he understood why that was an insult, and his son answered no. In order to clear up the situation, Mr. Booker translated the insult to something more personal to his son, asking him how he would feel if that same person was making fun of a family member’s’ disability. This made his son mad.  Ultimately, what Mr. Booker took away from this conversation was the fact that within our society today, kids, teens, young adults, and even adults struggle to establish a “red line” within their social atmosphere. He believes that if we somehow as a district can work to help children create a “red line” and learn how to stand up and defend that “red line,” we would solve a lot of issues within the community. Ultimately, student education regarding topics like the ones that have recently surfaced at the high school level would largely be beneficial to avoiding any sort of discrimination or hate speech within the community.

    Kirby, co-president of the Piedmont Appreciating Diversity Club (PADC) brought forward the fact and idea that this hate speech that has recently been encountered is not just a problem that the school has to deal with, it is a community wide problem that everyone needs to be aware of and needs to address. Looking at the issue from the perspective of the diversity club, Kirby also believed that diversity education would help to solve many issues. Ideally, diversity education would: 1. Support the development of the whole child, 2. Provide students with the language and tools to discuss topics of diversity, and 3. Develop a K-12 curriculum focusing on race/ethnicity, religion, gender, and sexual orientation/identity.

    Many voices of the community were heard throughout the duration of the meeting, including Mr. Daffner as well as Mrs. Griffith. Mr. Daffner strongly believed that it was important to acknowledge the historic problems that Piedmont has encountered regarding race and religious issues, as well as how these issues are perpetuated within the community. Mrs. Griffith said she hoped to raise her kids with values that emphasized the importance of treating everyone equally, and fostering the idea that everyone within the community is worth fighting for and understanding.

    Personally, I agree with all four of the perspectives listed above. Kirby, co-president of the PADC and his thoughts on diversity education really made a lot of sense to me. In my personal opinion, I believe that if people are given the tools to discuss sensitive and unknown topics, such as those of race, religion, and gender related topics, then individuals will have the ability to speak about them with a sufficient knowledge base. This could ultimately avoid language that can be deemed hateful or discriminatory because hopefully, people will have the proper education to talk about things in an adult manner. Additionally, through education, I think that we could address Mr. Booker’s point of the importance of kids establishing a “red line” and learning how to stand up for that “red line.”

    Following the meeting, I talked to Hillary Cooper about her incentive for being at the meeting. Hillary is a representative of the Piedmont High School Parents Club.  She recently “attended to show support for the District and what they are doing to address the recent hate speech incidents at the high school.” Though Ms. Cooper did not talk during the meeting, she came and “listened so that [she] could be aware of their needs and their issues.” Additionally, Mrs. Cooper plans to continue attending School Board meetings in order to support “plans to improve the facilities at the high school.”


by Nick Price, Piedmont High School Senior –

On Wednesday May 24, 2017, I attended a Board of Education meeting in the City Hall Council Chambers. This panel of elected officials and Superintendent, Randy Booker, meets every other week to discuss all facets of the Piedmont Unified School District.

During this particular meeting, a number of important topics were discussed. To start the evening, Max Miller, the Vice President of ASB at Millennium highlighted a few of the activities going on at his school. A few notables: the annual Fun in the Sun service learning day, ASB elections, and upcoming graduation in the Veteran’s Hall. Alisha Lewis, a representative of Piedmont High School’s ASB, talked about the recent senior service learning trip to the Oakland Zoo, Day on the Green, and a successful prom.

Following the school reports, the School Board and fellow teachers honored the retiring staff members with words of praise before Superintendent Booker began speaking on the current climate at the High School. With the recent surfacing of discriminatory behavior, Mr. Booker stressed the importance of establishing a “redline”. He continued by saying that we not only need to establish a line that cannot be crossed, but also have to have the courage to stand up for it. He added that the school district needs to work to support students and equip them with tools to protect their redline. Before inviting up Dr. Wozniak, he ended by acknowledging that a transition to a more positive school climate will be a long term change and reiterated the importance of finding the District’s redline along with that of the students.

Dr. Cheryl Wozniak, Title IX Coordinator and Director of Curriculum, then outlined the actions the District is taking in order to combat the recent racism. The projects include: professional development to support the teachers, student engagement and education, and a more efficient online form to report issues. Wozniak then invited the Director of the Wellness Center, Michael Brady to speak.  He spoke about the Wellness Center’s role of providing emotional support for students. He said that the Wellness Center is devoted to revamping the Youth Educators program, as there have been reports of discrimination at the middle school.

The School Board then opened up the conversation to a well-attended audience of parents, students, community leaders, and officials. Three students involved with the club Voco at Piedmont High School reported on the success of a forum that they held. In addition, the co-president of Piedmont Appreciating Diversity Club focused on the importance of celebrating diversity. He added that an appreciation of diversity supports the development of the “whole” child and that the school district has an obligation to implement curriculum focusing on race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. The School Board received praise for their handling of the situation by numerous attendees, including those of whom gave the most criticism. Both the Police Chief and PRD Director offered their joint support for the school and the community.

I found the conversation to be very constructive, offering people more insight into different perspectives around the community. I think it is essential that children are taught elements of diversity at a young age. In 4th grade around MLK Jr. Day, my teacher had our class make a wreath of hands. All of the hands resembled a different skin tone. The fact that I still remember this activity today is a great indication that teaching diversity early is, in fact, effective.

Overall, I found it very impactful to see so many different people attend the meeting and offer their point of view. It was a great experience to be part of.


by Nicholas Lee, Piedmont High School Senior –

The beginning of the May 24, 2017 School Board Meeting was used for congratulating retiring teachers such as Ms. Simonds and Mr. Mahoney (38 years at Piedmont Schools). Many people gave speeches about these retiring teachers to honor them for their service and dedication.

Next, a Girl Scout wanted support for her project to provide shade at the Witter baseball and softball bleachers. However, the cost would be an estimated $50,000 and take 5 years. How can building shade for the bleachers take 5 years? I believe I could round up some friends and do it in 1/10th of that time and cost.

A former Piedmont Post employee said he received emails that a Piedmont Post manager made inappropriate actions and only hires female interns. This speaker stopped his comments as School Board President Sarah Pearson said the time limit was up.

Superintendent Randy Booker wants students to not be bystanders when they witness acts of discrimination. He wants students to find their red line or moral line and clearly define it. Booker suggested three steps to help combat discrimination: 1. Conversation about redline 2. Community engagement, not just the students 3. Student Education.

A security consultant is reviewing each Piedmont school to install more safety measures in case of an emergency.

KTVU [Channel 2] interviewees on discrimination at Piedmont High School have received backlash and threats. The police are investigating whether this is a hate crime.

Richard Raushenbush, former Member of the School Board, was there because he serves on a facilitating committee to upgrade the security of our schools. They are continuing to work on ways to provide a more secure learning environment.

The School Board meetings are for community members to stay informed about the schools and also participate and give suggestions.


by Olivia Creighton, Piedmont High School Senior –

On May 24, 2017, I attended a meeting of the Piedmont School Board, The main topics of the evening were the retiring teachers from the elementary schools, middle school, and high school as well as the recent acts of anti-semitism and racism at Piedmont High School.

The meeting began with Gabriel Kessler, the vice president of APT, speaking to honor this year’s teacher retirees.  Kessler made a touching speech about the teachers dedication to their profession and their students.  Following Kessler, Max Miller and Alisha Lewis, vice presidents of Millennium High School and Piedmont High School student government respectively, spoke about recent activities at the high schools.

Miller talked about the recent service learning at Millennium in which all Millennium students participated in putting together toiletry kits with positive notes for homeless teenagers.  Millennium students found the experience to be fun and rewarding, especially when they got to go to Fun in the Sun afterwards, an afternoon at the Piedmont pool with food and games.  Millennium also had teacher appreciation day recently when students signed cards for their teachers to show their gratitude for all the hard work they do.  Millennium held their elections and elected a new secretary, vice president, and two co presidents.

Next, Alisha Lewis, Piedmont High School’s vice president, explained how the school has been very busy as the year comes to an end.  Piedmont High School also had teacher appreciation day and teachers received flowers from their students.  Some of the seniors went on a service learning trip to the Oakland Zoo where they helped to clear invasive species from a hillside and then spent free time exploring the zoo.  ASB hopes to continue the tradition of service learning.  After the zoo, the school had Day on the Green where ASB provided food, music, and bouncy houses for the students to enjoy and celebrate the end of the year.  In anticipation of finals stress, ASB brought in a therapy dog for students to relax with, a method they hope to implement more widely in the future during more stressful times of the year.  Lewis also spoke about how several of the retiring teachers have had a significant impact on her high school career and thanked them for their work.

Following Lewis’s honoring of the retiring teachers, Superintendent Randall Booker presented each of the retiring teachers with gifts.  Speeches were made in honor of Leslie Estrada, a first grade teacher, and Ms.Beverley, an occupational therapist, both retiring from Beach Elementary School.  Next, Ryan Fletcher, the principal at the middle school, spoke in honor of Ms. Cartusciello.  Then, Eric Mapes spoke in honor of retiring calculus teacher Ed Mahoney and ceramics teacher Susan Simonds.  After all the teachers had been thanked for their service, the meeting moved on to different topics.

Sophie Eng, a Piedmont Girl Scout working towards her silver award, spoke about her proposed service project.  Eng hopes to build shade over the bleachers at the Witter softball field.  Eng is concerned with the possible consequences of softball fans spending too much time sitting in the sun and heat.  She hopes to remedy these issues with her project.

After Eng spoke, Scott Prosterman, an ex-reporter for The Piedmont Post, delivered some unsettling information about its management practices and issues involving teachers, coaches, athletic directors, interns, and student athletes.  School Board President Pearson cut Prosterman off because he had exceeded his three minutes of allotted speaking time.  Prosterman was the only person asked to stop speaking during the meeting.

Superintendent Booker pivoted the conversation to the topic of the recent acts of anti-semitism and racism at Piedmont High School by telling a story about how his son is not fully aware of what is offensive and what is not offensive, concluding that parents, teachers, and administrators need to play a greater role in teaching children what is okay and not okay to say.  Booker announced the creation of a “working group,” which will be comprised of members of the community and will meet four or five times a year to discuss issues of discrimination and possible solutions.

Carol Wozniak, the Title IX coordinator for the District, followed up to echo Booker’s statements.  She outlined professional development efforts being undertaken at the elementary schools to help teachers and administrators better cope with issues of race and gender.  She also talked about the implementation of restorative justice at the elementary schools, actions that can be taken after a discriminatory incident which are not punitive, but aim to bring justice fairly for both the victim and the perpetrator.

Remaining on the topic of positive responses to the issues, high school students Nina Adarkar, Kay Sibal, and Maya Guzdar spoke about the recent Share Your Voice event they had planned and executed, where high school students were provided with a safe space to share their thoughts and feelings on the issues of discrimination at Piedmont High School.  The club they run, Voice Cooperative, hopes to work more closely with the School Board in the future to bring in more diverse speakers for the students.

Kobi Ashani, Co-president of the Piedmont Appreciating Diversity Committee, spoke on the importance of diversity training and acceptance.  He admonished Jewish students for forming factions at the school at a time when the student body needs to come together.

Following Ashani, Mr. Daffner spoke, stating that racism and anti-semitism were old problems in Piedmont, and, at the moment, it is unclear which issues need to be addressed.  Daffner believes that the District must identify the true problems, eliminate any actions they may be taking which contribute to or create discrimination in the community, such as the annual Christmas concert and the Community Church. He asked that the schools make stronger efforts to ensure the physical safety of students at school.

Sara Lillevand, the Director of the Piedmont Recreation Department, affirmed her support for efforts being made to combat discrimination and offered the assistance of the Recreation Department in any way possible.

Jeremy Bowers, the Police Chief, reaffirmed the Police Department’s support of efforts being made and stated that the police do not want to seek criminal action against the perpetrators of the anti-semitic or racist acts but instead want to find educational solutions to the issues.

Jen Cavanaugh, a member of Piedmont City Council, was in attendance at the meeting.  She said she was there “to show support for the community, administration, and School Board.”  She says she knows the incidents were not a one time thing and she hopes to be part of the ongoing effort to end discrimination in the Piedmont School District.

The issues of anti-semitism and racism at Piedmont High School certainly were not a one time thing.  Even after the assembly and awareness campaign, anti-semitism is still occurring on campus.  It is important that the administration makes it clear that there will be punishment for anti-semitic acts.  Awareness training should continue to make students aware that their actions cause harm to others and empathy should be at the heart of each decision made.

There are varying degrees of discrimination occurring at Piedmont.  There has always been unspoken discrimination and alienation of Jewish students and students of color by their peers and the community at large, but now it seems that the discrimination has escalated to something far more vicious than the District has seen.  When students are learning hate from home and the media, they are choosing to subscribe to the hate over the education received in school. It is imperative that clear punishment be outlined for these vicious acts so that at the very least, Jewish students and students of color do not have to endure this abuse.

The Piedmont Unified School District’s School Board is a government body focused on addressing issues in the Piedmont School District.  The School Board meets every two weeks. 

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the authors.

To view and/or listen to recordings of the entire May 24, 2017 Board of Education meeting, readers are directed to the City website at:   http://piedmont.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=3&clip_id=1617

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