By Livi Tuber and Chelsea Wasserstrom / News and Sports Editors
The district responded to community concerns about safety and well-being via its website Oct. 16 after many Bexley residents were victims of antisemitic harassment.
Principal of Secondary Schools Jason Caudill said the concerns emerged after Ring doorbell footage surfaced of a man shouting antisemitic remarks into the homes of Jewish residents.
“When we’re connected to a community, sometimes it’s not even about our own safety,” he said. “We’re worried about other people’s safety or other people’s ability to thrive.”
Board of Education President Alissha Mitchell added student safety was the administration’s first priority.
“Knowing that we are a community with a large Jewish demographic, we were thinking about safety protocols,” she said.
She explained when students come to school, their physical safety should be the least of their worries, regardless of how much the issue is weighing on them mentally.
Caudill said the district also felt compelled to make a statement condemning hatred to make expectations clear to students.
“Kindness shouldn’t be something we have to convince people of,” he said. “It’s been weighing on me to get kids and a community to embrace kindness when the adults in the world are doing such a terrible job of it.”
Leader of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Stephen Lewis said establishing a clear boundary of what language is acceptable is crucial for students because everyone should feel welcome and comfortable at school.
“Any time we have hate, we need to express that it’s inappropriate,” he said. “Anything anti-against-a-group is wrong.”
Mitchell said the district wanted to wait until the right message could be conveyed, but the community pushed back on the hesitation. She added rushed statements are often performative, and the district wanted to be purposeful with their choice of words.
“It’s not so much when you say things, but a matter of what you say,” Mitchell explained.
Superintendent Jason Fine said the district is working to improve its responses to best support the community after apologizing for an original statement made via email Oct. 11, due to “causing further distress” to Jewish residents.
“We have strengthened our relationships with religious and community leaders in the area who I hope will continue to work alongside us as we continue to put support in place,” he said.
He added while faculty members also want to support the community, there is a strict policy in place for teachers when talking about politics or other controversial topics.
“Educators are careful with their words and actions to make sure all students feel safe to explore their thoughts, ask questions and wrestle hard topics without judgment,” Fine said.
English teacher Todd Phillips said this policy was communicated to staff clearly through email and discussion in staff meetings. He explained that staff talked about how to properly manage conversations on controversial topics with students and were given talking points to consider.
Caudill said this policy was put into place because public schools are meant to be apolitical, but community members felt this was too big of an issue to ignore.
The district does not typically comment on politics, Fine said, but he felt this instance was different because it was personally affecting residents.
“As the issue continued to unfold, it became clear we needed to be more open about our efforts to support students, staff and the community in the midst of this tragedy,” he said.
Mitchell said teachers can still comment on the impact of controversial topics as long as they don’t discuss their political stances.
“There’s a human element to this, and you can still express pain and empathy,” she explained. “The district has been working for years on how to not only show empathy in these moments, but to provide critical thinking opportunities for our students, to analyze this information and come to their own conclusions.”
Phillips said the controversial topics policy has not affected the way he teaches, but the way he and his students are interacting.
“I have been clear about maintaining respect for students’ opinions,” he said. “However, I have also been clear that some conversations may be best to have privately in one-on-one or small group settings. In fact, several students have taken the opportunity to do so.”
Mitchell added she is impressed by the diligence and resilience of students and staff in these troubling times.
“It often gets discounted how strong they are,” she said. “They’re juggling the world’s problems and still making it to geometry class.”
Lewis said if students feel lost or have any questions, big or small, they should confide in a staff member.
“We want our students and staff to trust that they are safe in the building,” he said. “We do care about them, and we are in this environment together.”
Fine added he believes the OneBexley initiative will work to build a safer, more welcoming neighborhood.
“OneBexley is a joint effort by the district, the city and the library to combat all forms of hate, racism and prejudice as a wider community because we know we do not exist in a vacuum,” he said.
Fine explained the community working together to stand up against injustice will be beneficial for the well-being of residents.
“Hate has no place in our schools,” he said. “We stand against it, always. I am more confident than ever that our strength is in our community standing resolutely together.”
Livi Tuber is a senior at Bexley High School and a sports editor for the Torch. Outside of the Torch, she is on the softball team and is involved in Student Council and Environmental Club.
Chelsea Wasserstrom is a senior at Bexley High School and is a News Editor for The Torch. Aside from The Torch, she participates in various clubs.