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Board talks school climate in wake of SRVHS campaign video backlash

Speakers turn out in support of student criticized for ASB election promo

School climate took center stage at Tuesday night's school board meeting, among board members and audience members alike.

At least 50 residents attended the board meeting in Danville, many of them to show support for a San Ramon Valley High School incoming senior who was the subject of some outrage after he was elected as next year's student body president despite creating a campaign video criticized as Islamophobic.

The video in question was produced in February and posted online. It was taken down shortly after being posted, meaning that few people actually saw the video, but students and parents who showed up en masse at the May 23 school board meeting said it depicted a teen being abducted by Islamic terrorists.

The student, who received the most votes in the associated student body (ASB) president election, was initially disqualified from holding the post due to the campaign video but he was later reinstated. Some speakers at last month's meeting contended that the district reversed its decision only because the student's parents threatened legal action, citing the punishment as a violation of his right to free speech.

But speakers at Tuesday's meeting, many of them carrying signs that depicted a no symbol over phrases like "smear campaign targeting minors," had a different story to tell.

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Crystal Lu, president of the Silicon Valley Chinese Association Foundation, was first to take the microphone, noting that she wanted to correct various misconceptions that she felt had been circulated within the community and via social media, especially, she said, since much of the commentary was based on hearsay.

The student at the center of the controversy, she said, was from a working class family, "not a rich family as described by many people," she said. He is slated to be the first Asian American to be elected as student body president of SRVHS, she added, and was dedicated in his love for helping poor and disabled students.

Lu said she and a handful of others reached out to the family's attorney and were able to view the video in question. "The video was pretty evident to us to be a parody, featuring a James Bond-like character rescuing a game guru, kidnapped by two bad guys," Lu said. "And those bad guys wanted to force the hostage to play in a gaming tournament on their behalf. So that's the story."

She condemned social media and other media outlets for fueling the collective outrage directed at the student, as well as critiquing two members of the school community whom she felt had played a central role in spurring on public outcry: "the leadership teacher who appointed the student who lost in the election to actually be the winner while the boy was still under interrogation in the school office" and a "parent who started the smear campaign."

Other speakers also focused on the role of social media in fueling what they saw as an unhealthy campaign against the student.

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San Ramon Valley High parent Shirley Lapp asked the board members to consider adding parent education to their list of action steps to be taken to improve school climate.

"Many of those who commented on social media have damaged their relationships with their children through a terrible example of online behavior and through hypocrisy in what they tried to teach their kids to do with cyberbullying online," she said.

Since a discussion on school climate was on the agenda, board members said they could respond directly to speakers -- unlike at the last meeting, at which all the comments came during public input on non-agenda items.

All board members alluded to the last few weeks as having been some of the toughest of their time on the board, saying they received messages from people all over the country and even across the globe, some petitioning for their recall.

The ASB campaign video has been one of two social media-related controversies SRVHS has faced in recent weeks -- the other being a case of cyberbullying in which a female varsity athlete posted a video online of a sophomore girl urinating in a locked bathroom stall.

"What made me really sad about the last board meeting was that it took blowing something out of proportion and misrepresenting it to get the members of our Islamic community to come to us and tell us how they're hurting," school board member Rachel Hurd said. "Because the stories that were shared by students and parents that night were real, and were things that we care about."

Talk about this specific case fed into a larger conversation about tolerance, free speech and restorative justice in San Ramon Valley schools.

"As this whole controversy bears out, we're going to have a healthy discussion in this community about what zero tolerance means," Hurd said. "Or the words 'this behavior won't be tolerated.' It means the behavior won't be tolerated. It means it won't go unchecked, unnoticed. It does not mean the student will not be tolerated and is out of here."

Board president Mark Jewett said he wanted to validate some of the ideas mentioned at the previous board meeting, recounting having sat down with an Islamic family to watch the entire video. They tensed up, he said, and in the end, couldn't see the parody.

"There is a side to this story. What may or may not be offensive to some, is definitely offensive and inappropriate to others," he said.

He added that this should have been a teachable moment, used to educate all of their students on the value of tolerance. "When we lose the ability to disagree with civility, we lose the ability to move forward," he said.

Assistant superintendent of educational services Toni Taylor outlined some of the steps that had been taken in the district with regards to school climate, including ensuring that each school had staff trained in cultural responsiveness, investing in two district-wide culturally and linguistically responsive coaches and partnering with the Anti-Defamation League.

This month, she said, board members would be meeting with community Islamic groups, and they would be replacing the current task force with a community action group that would include local multicultural groups.

"This has been an extremely difficult year," Taylor said. "We have really invested time and effort into the climate issues and our commitment is to continue to spend all the resources that we need to ensure that our schools are inclusive, safe and inviting environments for all of our students."

Public speaker Thomas Tellner spoke on behalf of several groups that were present at the May 23 board meeting, delivering a letter with 1,300 signatures and asking the board to take two specific actions: one, that the board and district employees continue to publicly condemn Islamophobia, and two, that board members reach out to local Islamic resources to help the community learn more about "one community that was impacted by this issue," he said.

He then spoke on his own behalf, as a community member and a Muslim. "There are a lot of different communities in this district; we do have a plurality," he said. "It is worth fighting for. But I think there's still a lot we have to learn about each other."

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Board talks school climate in wake of SRVHS campaign video backlash

Speakers turn out in support of student criticized for ASB election promo

by /

Uploaded: Wed, Jun 14, 2017, 3:57 pm

School climate took center stage at Tuesday night's school board meeting, among board members and audience members alike.

At least 50 residents attended the board meeting in Danville, many of them to show support for a San Ramon Valley High School incoming senior who was the subject of some outrage after he was elected as next year's student body president despite creating a campaign video criticized as Islamophobic.

The video in question was produced in February and posted online. It was taken down shortly after being posted, meaning that few people actually saw the video, but students and parents who showed up en masse at the May 23 school board meeting said it depicted a teen being abducted by Islamic terrorists.

The student, who received the most votes in the associated student body (ASB) president election, was initially disqualified from holding the post due to the campaign video but he was later reinstated. Some speakers at last month's meeting contended that the district reversed its decision only because the student's parents threatened legal action, citing the punishment as a violation of his right to free speech.

But speakers at Tuesday's meeting, many of them carrying signs that depicted a no symbol over phrases like "smear campaign targeting minors," had a different story to tell.

Crystal Lu, president of the Silicon Valley Chinese Association Foundation, was first to take the microphone, noting that she wanted to correct various misconceptions that she felt had been circulated within the community and via social media, especially, she said, since much of the commentary was based on hearsay.

The student at the center of the controversy, she said, was from a working class family, "not a rich family as described by many people," she said. He is slated to be the first Asian American to be elected as student body president of SRVHS, she added, and was dedicated in his love for helping poor and disabled students.

Lu said she and a handful of others reached out to the family's attorney and were able to view the video in question. "The video was pretty evident to us to be a parody, featuring a James Bond-like character rescuing a game guru, kidnapped by two bad guys," Lu said. "And those bad guys wanted to force the hostage to play in a gaming tournament on their behalf. So that's the story."

She condemned social media and other media outlets for fueling the collective outrage directed at the student, as well as critiquing two members of the school community whom she felt had played a central role in spurring on public outcry: "the leadership teacher who appointed the student who lost in the election to actually be the winner while the boy was still under interrogation in the school office" and a "parent who started the smear campaign."

Other speakers also focused on the role of social media in fueling what they saw as an unhealthy campaign against the student.

San Ramon Valley High parent Shirley Lapp asked the board members to consider adding parent education to their list of action steps to be taken to improve school climate.

"Many of those who commented on social media have damaged their relationships with their children through a terrible example of online behavior and through hypocrisy in what they tried to teach their kids to do with cyberbullying online," she said.

Since a discussion on school climate was on the agenda, board members said they could respond directly to speakers -- unlike at the last meeting, at which all the comments came during public input on non-agenda items.

All board members alluded to the last few weeks as having been some of the toughest of their time on the board, saying they received messages from people all over the country and even across the globe, some petitioning for their recall.

The ASB campaign video has been one of two social media-related controversies SRVHS has faced in recent weeks -- the other being a case of cyberbullying in which a female varsity athlete posted a video online of a sophomore girl urinating in a locked bathroom stall.

"What made me really sad about the last board meeting was that it took blowing something out of proportion and misrepresenting it to get the members of our Islamic community to come to us and tell us how they're hurting," school board member Rachel Hurd said. "Because the stories that were shared by students and parents that night were real, and were things that we care about."

Talk about this specific case fed into a larger conversation about tolerance, free speech and restorative justice in San Ramon Valley schools.

"As this whole controversy bears out, we're going to have a healthy discussion in this community about what zero tolerance means," Hurd said. "Or the words 'this behavior won't be tolerated.' It means the behavior won't be tolerated. It means it won't go unchecked, unnoticed. It does not mean the student will not be tolerated and is out of here."

Board president Mark Jewett said he wanted to validate some of the ideas mentioned at the previous board meeting, recounting having sat down with an Islamic family to watch the entire video. They tensed up, he said, and in the end, couldn't see the parody.

"There is a side to this story. What may or may not be offensive to some, is definitely offensive and inappropriate to others," he said.

He added that this should have been a teachable moment, used to educate all of their students on the value of tolerance. "When we lose the ability to disagree with civility, we lose the ability to move forward," he said.

Assistant superintendent of educational services Toni Taylor outlined some of the steps that had been taken in the district with regards to school climate, including ensuring that each school had staff trained in cultural responsiveness, investing in two district-wide culturally and linguistically responsive coaches and partnering with the Anti-Defamation League.

This month, she said, board members would be meeting with community Islamic groups, and they would be replacing the current task force with a community action group that would include local multicultural groups.

"This has been an extremely difficult year," Taylor said. "We have really invested time and effort into the climate issues and our commitment is to continue to spend all the resources that we need to ensure that our schools are inclusive, safe and inviting environments for all of our students."

Public speaker Thomas Tellner spoke on behalf of several groups that were present at the May 23 board meeting, delivering a letter with 1,300 signatures and asking the board to take two specific actions: one, that the board and district employees continue to publicly condemn Islamophobia, and two, that board members reach out to local Islamic resources to help the community learn more about "one community that was impacted by this issue," he said.

He then spoke on his own behalf, as a community member and a Muslim. "There are a lot of different communities in this district; we do have a plurality," he said. "It is worth fighting for. But I think there's still a lot we have to learn about each other."

Comments

Rose May
San Ramon
on Jun 14, 2017 at 11:06 pm
Rose May, San Ramon
on Jun 14, 2017 at 11:06 pm

"Board president Mark Jewett said he wanted to validate some of the ideas mentioned at the previous board meeting, recounting having sat down with an Islamic family to watch the entire video. They tensed up, he said, and in the end, couldn't see the parody." I understand Mark wants to help. But is this legal? The video has been taken down after receiving about 30 views. Since then, nobody except for the lawyers have had access to it. Showing it to others without the consent of the minors' parents? I thought students' images are protected...


Herman Glates
Registered user
Danville
on Jun 15, 2017 at 7:32 am
Herman Glates, Danville
Registered user
on Jun 15, 2017 at 7:32 am

The school district has decided to invest, “in two district-wide culturally and linguistically responsive coaches.”

Your taxpayer money at work.

And now they’re talking about implementing “restorative justice.”

We saw how that worked a few months ago up the road in Albany. Some kids clicked the “like” button on some offensive pictures on a private website and the school made them stand in front of the entire student body and get ridiculed. The “tolerant” liberals then broke one kids’ nose and beat up and harassed the others. Then the liberals had the gall to say they didn’t feel safe at school.

Seems a lot of people need to have a “teachable moment” about tolerance.


Dave
Danville
on Jun 16, 2017 at 9:48 am
Dave, Danville
on Jun 16, 2017 at 9:48 am

HG -

Criticism is easy. Please tell us how you would have handled the situation?

My experience in this predominantly white community is that slights, exclusion, racially offensive language that are directed at minority students here rarely receives the scrutiny that it deserves. Are you opposed to the "disinfectant of sunlight" that comes with dialog within the community?


Scott Hale
Registered user
San Ramon
on Jun 16, 2017 at 10:08 am
Scott Hale, San Ramon
Registered user
on Jun 16, 2017 at 10:08 am

Dave: I'm sorry are you referring to the entire SRVUSD area, or just the one HS area? If the entire region, I'm afraid you are not quite accurate. Check Dougherty Valley; it clearly is not predominantly white. In fact, quite the opposite. Narrow down to the schools in just Gale Ranch and it is quite a bit more that WASP are in the minority by a wide margin.
Now the one HS the incident happened, no doubt you are correct...a few miles this way and you aren't......


Herman Glates
Registered user
Danville
on Jun 16, 2017 at 10:17 am
Herman Glates, Danville
Registered user
on Jun 16, 2017 at 10:17 am

I agree, that everyone, no matter how nonconformist or eccentric, should be free from harassment and abuse.

But no one deserves special rights, protections, or privileges on the basis of their eccentricity. The high school should not censor debate based on people’s subjective feeling.

Being offended is what happens when you have your deepest beliefs challenged.

That should happen at every high school.

A lot.

Students are learning how to shut down arguments they don’t like by saying they are offended.

Is there only one acceptable view on Islam?

Why shouldn’t students be free to challenge those ideas?

I’m opposed to Liberals who are obsessed with language.

And I reject their state-sponsored coercion to force the discussion to their pre-approved opinions only.

I’m not Christian or particularly religious, but I’m opposed to Liberals’ open hostility to religion, above all Christianity. Yet Islam remains beyond criticism because it is largely a religion of non-whites.

Liberals are using authoritarian tactics, reducing individuals to a group identity, defining that group in permanent victim terms, and denying others their democratic right to challenge that group and its ideology.

This must stop.


Emily
Danville
on Jun 16, 2017 at 10:38 am
Emily, Danville
on Jun 16, 2017 at 10:38 am

I hope the community returns to the next Board Meeting to express just how unacceptable it is for someone who created such a hateful video to be student body president of a school whose district and board want to profess to care about equlity, understanding and tolerance. Values only matter when you are willing to act upon them. This young man made a very bad choice that has clearly impacted and disrupted the community.

One of the most unique things about SRV has always been the welcoming and caring way the leadership program has celebrated all students. Allowing this student to serve at the helm after displaying such poor judgment diminishes that mission and all of the districts professed values. Having values isn't about action steps and Staff and community trainings. Those are all meaningless words unless you are willing to act on them -- especially when acting on your stated values comes with consequences.

It is still amazing to me that the parents are standing behind their kid in all of this. If my kid had made this video which was not a "parody of James Bond" by any stretch I would have called the district too, but I would have callled to apologize. Hate speech in a student body election is unacceptable. All adults should be sending the same message on this.

Moreover, lets not gloss over that the video was full of images of violence and (removed). Bravo to the students and staff of SRV and the East Bay for standing up and demanding that the district act on their stated values. Shame on the district for being weak.


Scott Hale
Registered user
San Ramon
on Jun 16, 2017 at 10:48 am
Scott Hale, San Ramon
Registered user
on Jun 16, 2017 at 10:48 am

Just curious Emily if you were principal of said school what would you have done?


Cameron Barry
San Ramon
on Jun 16, 2017 at 5:20 pm
Cameron Barry, San Ramon
on Jun 16, 2017 at 5:20 pm

Emily, have you seen the video? If not, you should remove yourself from commenting on this video or judging this minor. According to a Board Member, many speakers at the May 23 board meeting begin their speech by stating "I haven't seen the video, but..." You are not alone, but that doesn't make it right.


Herman Glates
Registered user
Danville
on Jun 16, 2017 at 8:09 pm
Herman Glates, Danville
Registered user
on Jun 16, 2017 at 8:09 pm

You’d call the school to apologize? APOLOGIZE???

For WHAT??

The kid made a video about saving his classmates from terrorists.

That’s gob dam heroic.

I’d buy the kid a beer

if he was old enough to drink.


Cinti
another community
on Jun 17, 2017 at 7:36 pm
Cinti, another community
on Jun 17, 2017 at 7:36 pm

Emily, if you want to teach your children or your students about tolerance, the first step should be to cool down and be open to the idea that you and other screaming Islamic community members might have been overreacted and wrong. No community or culture have special protection or special rights above criticism and ridicule, especially when several horrific violence acts were related to them. You can remove the boy from his hard earned honor today, but are you going to kill off all the entrainments that have bad people looking like Muslim or having the same extreme religion? Is it still United States of America?


Jose
San Ramon
on Jun 17, 2017 at 8:44 pm
Jose, San Ramon
on Jun 17, 2017 at 8:44 pm

What I see is a group of parents and teachers bully this elected ASB president and his younger siblings, all minors, in the name of an "offending" video. But according to the people who viewed it, the video is not offensive.

Thanks to the bully, this student's younger sister who attends a different school was "disqualified" from a leadership program, although she has done nothing wrong.

San Ramon Valley HS is getting more and more "famous". First it was that a female student videotaped another female student in the bathroom - the victim is Asian. Now teachers and administrators bullied minors - also Asian. I sincerely suggest a new name for this school: San Ramon Bully HS. :)


Peterson Zhao
Blackhawk
on Jun 17, 2017 at 9:38 pm
Peterson Zhao, Blackhawk
on Jun 17, 2017 at 9:38 pm

"...it took blowing something out of proportion and misrepresenting it to get the members of our Islamic community to come to us and tell us how they're hurting," school board member Rachel Hurd said.

Out of proportion and misrepresenting? Did she mean this? "The video shows a teen boy playing a video game in his room; a box of tissues and a bottle of lotion are on a desk nearby. School district attorneys referred to this as an innuendo to the teen performing a sex act." East Bay Times 5/24/2017

It might be a cultural thing. Those two everyday common items meant allergy season and hand lotion to me.


Laura
Danville
on Jun 17, 2017 at 10:08 pm
Laura, Danville
on Jun 17, 2017 at 10:08 pm

This whole thing is ridiculous and should never have happened. By this logic, we should ban all the movies or books that depict radical Islamic terrorists.

It saddens me deeply that we have become a society that is afraid of facing some hard facts and speaking out matter-of-factly.


Leo
Tassajara Hills Elementary School
on Jun 17, 2017 at 10:14 pm
Leo, Tassajara Hills Elementary School
on Jun 17, 2017 at 10:14 pm

Some leadership teachers rigged the student election. Some adults went to social media to witch hunt an innocent Asian student. Now the school board wants to educate students about tolerance.

You really cannot make this up. Totally out of the right focus!


Rose
San Ramon
on Jun 17, 2017 at 11:27 pm
Rose, San Ramon
on Jun 17, 2017 at 11:27 pm

A kid and his friends made a short video for ASB election. He won the presidency.
Then a Salem-like witch hunt started, plus joined by some newspaper and media. What a liberal society! Isn't something wrong there! Why these adult people use insidious means to crash a minor, a good kid with good heart & intention? Should these creepy people be prosecuted instead?


KC
another community
on Jun 18, 2017 at 1:28 am
KC, another community
on Jun 18, 2017 at 1:28 am

When adults start acting like children without stopping to consider of their actions and it's consequence, you've got a problem.
Regardless of who might be right or wrong, harassment and bullying should never be tolerated. Two wrongs don't make a right and you'll never get what you want from it.


As a Teacher...
Walnut Creek
on Jun 18, 2017 at 10:13 am
As a Teacher..., Walnut Creek
on Jun 18, 2017 at 10:13 am

...and someone who is considered conservative, it is difficult at times to teach in this district. But, it is my choice and I just deal with some of the districts policies and philosophies. The programs that are forced upon my students by administration is teaching these kids that being a victim is OK. I teach my own kids just the opposite, don't be a victim and fight back. Schools have "mindfulness moments" or forced meditation. They have assemblies and special programs periodically throughout the school year about being inclusive, racially sensitive, etc. The have restorative justice, where victims must confront their attacker to "make things work out", whatever happened to "consequences correct negative behavior"? All in all, it's a systematic brainwashing disguised as something else and it is being forced upon your child, just ask them.


Parent
Danville
on Jun 19, 2017 at 4:22 pm
Parent, Danville
on Jun 19, 2017 at 4:22 pm

As a Teacher, thank you for your insight. It reaffirms while come this fall my kid will be attending elsewhere.


fears confirmed
Danville
on Jun 19, 2017 at 9:16 pm
fears confirmed, Danville
on Jun 19, 2017 at 9:16 pm

I agree with "Parent." Despite being a Danville resident, I'm delighted that I transferred my kids to a different school and out of the Danville schools. Many -- not all -- seem to be myopic when it comes to the nuanced issues of race, ethnicity, religion, and national origin. I see a concerted effort for folks burying their heads in the alt-right sand and calling it an aversion to "political correctness."

I have absolutely no problem with having intelligent debates relating to religion, current events, etc. That discourse ought to be vigorous but it should be respectful. Respect is what is missing in this dialogue. The reality is that the lack of respectful discourse has trickled down from "on-high" this year...


New River
Registered user
San Ramon
on Jun 24, 2017 at 11:46 am
New River, San Ramon
Registered user
on Jun 24, 2017 at 11:46 am

The other side of story is out for the SRVHS Video Controversy, from the student's family:
Web Link
The open letter is about how the student had been badly bullied by school administration. Concerned parents please read.


Lone Ranger of Danville
Registered user
Danville
on Jun 25, 2017 at 5:39 pm
Lone Ranger of Danville, Danville
Registered user
on Jun 25, 2017 at 5:39 pm


From the Open Letter of the Parents:
"He was interrogated during his lunch time without food or water. One of the assistant principals had the audacity to even eat her lunch in front of him. He was not even allowed to leave to use the restroom. They attempted to confiscate his cell phone, so he could not contact anyone including us. While his fellow students who participated in the campaign video were interrogated for less than an hour and released, they held him captive for almost three hours and continued to keep him past the end of the school day."
WOW! Does this sound like discrimination, intimidation, and illegal or false imprisonment? This is too much for a minor to bear!


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