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Hopewell Valley school board set to adopt revisions to hate crime policy

The Hopewell Valley Regional Board of Education will seek to adopt revisions to the district’s hate crime and bias policy, when assessing potential acts outside of district schools.

The revisions are designed to clarify how the district administration will approach such incidents that have taken place outside of school that occurred online or on social media, as well as, on school grounds.

The extent to which officials will intervene are based on the nature and seriousness of the conduct, according to the policy.

The board will decide on the revisions at the next meeting on March 16 at the Administration Building in Pennington.

“Our reason for the policy revision was two-fold: First, to send a clear message the hate crimes and bias related acts will not be tolerated in our school community. Second, to clarify how we are going to address situations that occur – particularly when they occur online,” Superintendent of Schools Thomas Smith said.

The policy explains that hate speech and bias might take the form of subtle bias, hateful speech in the form of insults or epithets, or ongoing harassment.

“This policy is being reviewed in conjunction with the district’s ongoing efforts to address issues of equity, and as a means of developing stronger, more resilient staff and students,” Board President Deborah Linthorst said. “We live in a complex and ever-changing world; it is incumbent upon us to be responsive to any and all incidents of discrimination that manifest themselves in a hate crimes or bias related acts, even those which may occur outside of the school day or buildings, as they affect the school climate and culture.”

Under the current policy any school employee that develops reason to believe that a hate crime has been or will be committed is required to inform the school principal and superintendent. Officials would then notify the local police department and basis investigative officer for the county prosecutor’s office.

“The Board recognizes that our policies must reflect the times in which we live.  Our students are navigating through various online/social media platforms. This policy recognizes that district officials may need to intervene when hate crimes or related acts occur online, and must deal with these incidents on a case-by-case basis,” Linthorst said.  “In many instances, the district will report these incidents to the appropriate authorities.

She explained that district responses to these actions, which will involve a combination of discipline, education and reflection, and community service, will aim to ensure a safe and equitable learning environment for all school community members.

“It is critical that the language within this policy reflect the seriousness and nature of these allegations. Through this policy, we intend to reaffirm that the district will not tolerate any form of discrimination,” Linthorst said.

The process of required actions by officials will not change with the clarified revisions.

“Hopewell Valley, like many school districts are faced with situations that happen outside of school and on personal devices but impact the functioning of our schools. As school administrators, we have seen an increase in subtle bias, hateful speech in the form of insults or epithets, or ongoing harassment or retaliation for a past event or report,” Smith said. “These acts impact the day to day functioning of our schools and we wanted to clarify how address them.”

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