[Jan. 2017 Opinions] Editorial

[Jan. 2017 Opinions] Editorial

Before winter break, graffiti reading “Kill Jews” and an image of a swastika were discovered in a boys’ bathroom and reported to the administration. Since then, other intolerant messages, such as “Gay Free Zone,” have also been discovered.

In an interview with Inklings, Assistant Principal James Farnen called the graffiti an “outlier” at Staples. While these messages are certainly not a daily occurrence, hate messages written in graffiti and in the recent Staples Meme Facebook group have become too common to be considered “outliers.” While these incidents are ultimately the fault of the students, administrative changes must occur in order to foster a more accepting environment.

To combat intolerance, concrete steps towards establishing administrative honesty, enforcement of current rules and ethics should be implemented at Staples High School and the Westport Public Schools district.

While the kindness-driven assembly on Dec. 21, 2016 was well-intentioned, it sidestepped the issue and was not transparent. A summary of the problem and a clear explanation of its effects should have been provided to the entire community. However, in this particular instance, the administration failed to both explain the content of the graffiti messages that prompted the assembly and rightfully label these messages as a hate crime. Before a problem can be solved, it must be clearly identified.

In addition to taking a more direct and honest approach, the administration must enforce the current punishments described in the Student Handbook. As of now, the student body is not aware of any punishment for the crude graffiti messages. And, while those who created the Staples Meme page were suspensed, those responsible for posting in the group were only spoken to. This lack of enforcement will breed a culture of tolerance for intolerance.

Then there is the issue of a lack of respect and empathy. As students, we have seen both the school administration and the community push for us to get higher grades and high A.P. scores, but we seldom see the school push for us to be better people. One school assembly, even if it were to be perfectly executed, is not enough. Intelligence is only half of education; the other half is character.

To begin to really tackle the issue, there have to be significant changes in curriculum. For starters, ethics classes could be offered not only at the high school, but also at the elementary and middle schools. These ethics classes should cover not only the definitions of respect, plagiarism and honesty, but also promote understanding and empathy for other perspectives, groups and ways of life. The classes should also specifically address the concepts of racism, sexism, religious intolerance and hate, walking towards, instead of away, from difficult discussions. Ethics courses are offered in colleges, so why not at Staples?

For too long this school district has been focused solely on its reputation as an exemplary academic district, but it has reached the point where we must value character more.

The Editorial Board voted unanimously in favor of this opinion.