Dear LMSD Community,
Our District, not unlike others, is facing the normal stressors associated with this time of the school year. We are facing several issues that affect our lives both in and out of school that may be causing additional stress for you as well. The purpose of this message is to provide transparency regarding some of those current issues and upcoming events.
School Start Times
The Lower Merion Board of School Directors is set to vote on school start times on Monday, March 20, 2023, at the 8:00 p.m. Regular Business Board Meeting. I encourage you to review the information presented at last week’s meeting as it reflects our challenges in addressing the needs of all constituents to create a pathway for change to meet the healthy start time recommendations by numerous health and medical authorities. Until the vote, I understand that there is uncertainty, which is stressful. After the vote, some in the community may be unhappy, which also will be stressful. While I cannot predict Monday night’s outcome, I want to assure you that the Board is weighing and considering all of the stakeholder feedback they have received and will do what they believe will be best for students, staff and families.
Incidents of Racism and Antisemitism
Also in recent weeks, there have been incidents in two of our schools involving racism, and in one of those schools, antisemitism as well.
Bala Cynwyd Middle School Principal Jeffrey Hunter has shared with his school community that students have been heard using racist and antisemitic language and that a racist term was written on a school wall. These incidents were made even more disturbing because they occurred after schoolwide lessons for Black History Month and Holocaust Remembrance. The students involved are facing appropriate consequences, but their actions were witnessed by other students. The BCMS staff is working with all students to ensure they understand that such language has no place in our schools and to reiterate lessons about civility and tolerance.
At Harriton High School, a student spoofed a fellow student’s email account and – to try to get that student in trouble – sent racist emails to eight Black students. The matter was reported to the police and an immediate investigation revealed the actual sender of those highly offensive and inappropriate emails. The sender is no longer attending Harriton, the eight students who were targeted received immediate support from school administrators, and their families notified as quickly as possible. Administrators were able to share with the email recipients information about the origin of the emails, the sender and the motivation. No schoolwide email was sent after this incident because the culprit was quickly identified and disciplined, and the school was able to identify and directly support the individuals impacted.
You may be aware that, in recent weeks, an organization called Parents Defending Education has reportedly filed two complaints with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR), alleging that some programs that are part of LMSD’s ongoing Equity work are racist or sexist. The OCR has not yet advised the District as to whether it will proceed with these complaints. They may not do so for several weeks or even months.
LMSD’s Policy 101 Equity, which the Board approved in June 2021, codifies the District’s shared commitment to ensure that every student gets what they need to be successful. The Policy states, “practicing equity in this District means understanding the needs of individuals and positioning resources – including funding, programs, policies, initiatives, and supports – to target people’s unique experiences and to provide for individual needs so that achievement and opportunity gaps are eliminated on personal and systemic levels.”
I want to end by noting that wonderful things are happening every day in our schools. Harriton’s VEX Robotics team is headed to the World Championships. Students from Penn Wynne were inspired by author Jimmy Curran and his book “Will the One-Winged Eagle.” Bala Cynwyd students raised $2000 for the START program with a schoolwide volleyball tournament. All three middle schools recently staged stellar musicals and students from Lower Merion and Harriton were named to the All-State Orchestra. We are proud to share our students’ accomplishments and celebrations on our District website, Facebook and Instagram accounts.
Please know that the Board, our District Administration and staff are fully committed to the health and safety of our students, to promoting academic success, and to supporting students’ mental and emotional wellness. Now, more than ever, is the time for families and schools to work together to foster supportive relationships and inclusive learning environments. I urge you to have discussions at home that emphasize the importance of treating others with respect and kindness. At the same time, we recognize that there is always room for us to grow and improve, and our primary responsibility is to honor the dignity of every member of our school community.
I remain hopeful that our community can work together to ensure that all of our students, staff and families feel a sense of belonging and pride in LMSD.
Megan E. Shafer