Top Bar

Lower Merion High School

Off-Canvas

LMHS Newsroom

Letter from Dr. Yanni regarding recent Merionite issue

On Thursday, Dec. 21, 2023, Superintendent Dr. Steven Yanni shared the letter below with the LMSD community regarding recent student opinion pieces published in The Merionite, Lower Merion High School's student newspaper. 

Dear Lower Merion Families and Community members,

Let me start by acknowledging the hurt and fear that the most recent edition of The Merionite, Lower Merion High School’s student newspaper, has caused among some members of our community. The newspaper included opinion pieces in which students shared their perspectives on the Israel-Hamas war. I often say that there’s a difference between intent and reality. Although it was not the intent of the District, The Merionite, LMHS, or any of its students or staff to create hurt and fear, that is what has occurred for many people in our community. The purpose of this communication is to address that reality and to share with our community what we plan to do moving forward.

As I drive to work each morning, I think about the day ahead, most notably the long list of never-ending tasks that need to be done but, more importantly, I think about the students, staff, and community members that our District serves. In recent weeks, my reflections have focused on how we can continue to support not only a sense of belonging among all our students – but help them understand that they matter, truly matter, as integral members of our community.

I think we can all agree that fostering a sense of belonging in school or even in a community is made more challenging given the often-divided state of the world in which we live. World events, politics and ever-changing societal norms often run contrary to developing and sustaining in all of us a true sense of belonging among our peers and contemporaries. We must strive to disrupt the forces that distract. That’s why our District has been, is, and will continue to be focused on our diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging work.

Yesterday we shared a statement that The Merionite articles solely represent the opinions of the authors, not the Lower Merion School District. Students’ speech is Constitutionally protected. Our legal counsel has confirmed that protection applies in this case. That said, we acknowledge that there is great disagreement about the nature of the information shared in the articles.

Our Leadership Team has an obligation each day to ensure that our students and staff are safe and ready for the day ahead of them. As such, we had an increased presence of administrators and security personnel at Lower Merion High School today. We spent time dialoguing with staff and students. Likewise, after the publication of the articles yesterday, we spent time at LM meeting with staff and having conversation with students. We took these steps because our students and staff matter greatly to us.

Let me also state emphatically that we support, value, and respect every student and staff member that are part of our school communities, regardless of their race, religion, gender, political view or any other characteristic that makes them who they are. Likewise, we support, value, and respect our students’ families and the community at large. I recognize that in this moment, some members of our community might question that statement. That’s why it is important that we articulate a plan to emerge from this moment and move forward collectively as a unified community.

When we return to school in January, we will continue on a path that includes three primary goals:

1.     Clearly communicating to students, families and the community the differences between Constitutionally protected speech and hate speech. While we have policies about discrimination and equity, we believe having clear definitions of hate speech will serve our students, staff and community well as we forge ahead as a community that will likely continue to face angst over community, regional, national or international events. Since the publication of the two opinion pieces in The Merionite, I have heard from parents/guardians, staff, student free-speech activist groups, scholars and others about them. The messages from members of each of these groups are similar; however, the stance of each group is not aligned, which tells me we need to be more explicit about how we view student speech and expression.

2.     Providing learning opportunities for our students and staff and resources for our community about antisemitism. We will do the same for Islamophobia, as well as provide continued guidance for recognizing and countering bias and discrimination based on race, ethnicity, sex, biological or asserted gender, etc. Instances of antisemitism are not always overt; they are often nuanced and go unchecked, not only in schools, but in communities and across the world. It is important that we provide the requisite tools students, staff and community members need to have to recognize and interrogate bias, discrimination and other harmful actions.

3.     Continually evaluating our curriculum to ensure it is inclusive of all the students we serve. This means that we are actively examining our curriculum and resources to ensure that we not only devote the necessary time and attention to the history and cultures that reflect the diversity of our students.

The work ahead will be a collaboration between and among the District and a variety of organizations that can support our students, staff, families and community members. This work cannot be reduced to a checklist. That means we will not provide singular messaging or episodic learning just to say we took action to improve conditions. Instead, we will provide periodic and ongoing learning and resources aimed at keeping the work top-of-mind. We will also encourage our students’ families to reinforce at home the learning taking place at school.

Throughout the winter and spring, I will share periodic updates about the work we are doing. Many people in our community will value this work, some may not believe the District is doing enough and others will look at these efforts with disdain. Despite cheer or jeers, we will forge ahead and continue to be better each day. Updates will be shared via the Making Practices Public page of our website; the community will be alerted when updates are added.

As the week draws to a close, I want to wish our entire community a relaxing winter break. Though the tenor of this moment has dampened the levity of the holiday season for members of our community, I still believe that our best times are ahead of us. I look forward to sharing updates on our progress toward making LMSD the best it can be for each and every one of our students, as well as our families and community.

My best now and always,

Steven M. Yanni, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools

News & Announcements