File photo/Bay Area News Group Alameda County Sheriff’s Office cars are parked outside Castro Valley High School in this Oct. 2006 file photo during a campus lockdown. The school district is vowing to kickstart a community conversation on discrimination following back-to-back cases of racist graffiti appearing at Castro Valley High School during the last week of school.
CASTRO VALLEY — School district administrators are planning to hold community discussions on discrimination after racist graffiti appeared twice at Castro Valley High School during the last week of school.
“This cannot be unanswered, and that’s why we work very hard to find out who has done this and make sure we always have preventative measures,” Castro Valley Unified School District Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi said in an interview.
“I think these are deep-rooted issues that every one of us in education and communities have to address because Castro Valley is not isolated in the things that have occurred recently in communities around the Bay Area, nationally or statewide, and none of it is OK and acceptable,” she said.
A racist message aimed at African-American students and district employees, using the N-word, was scrawled on a Castro Valley High School student’s locker and several nearby building pillars June 1.
In a letter to parents that same day, Castro Valley High Principal Blaine Torpey asked that they “talk with your student about the importance of maintaining a safe environment for our students and staff,” while encouraging students “to report destructive language or behaviors to an adult on campus.”
“Targeting students and staff based on race is unethical and illegal,” Torpey wrote in his letter.
“This sort of behavior is not who we are and will not be tolerated. Using racist language, whether written or spoken, creates an unsafe atmosphere and is destructive to our core mission — the safe and nurturing education of all students,” he wrote.
But that did not stop a similar racist message from being written on a school bathroom mirror the next day.
“I am deeply troubled by this as I know that our students, our staff site and districtwide, and families are as well,” Torpey wrote in a June 2 letter to high school parents.
“It is important that each of our students understand that using hate speech in any capacity is wrong. Hate speech and racist language destroy the fabric of our community,” he wrote.
A group of students held several forums on the issue immediately after the second incident. School administrators also contacted student leaders across the district to begin planning campus and community talks on discrimination once the new school year begins in August, Ahmadi said.
“When we have those community conversations, I want to make sure that they’re very thoughtfully planned and involve not just our students and families … because what occurred at school is just a part of the big landscape in all of the Bay Area, state and nation, not just Castro Valley,” Ahmadi said.
“This has been our focus for several years, but we always need to look at new ways to bring everyone on board and have these important conversations,” she said.
The school district is working with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office to investigate the incident; it is not certain who might have written the derogatory messages or why, Ahmadi said.
The school district’s response, meanwhile, involves working with students to “give them a voice and make sure they feel comfortable sharing their concerns with us” and collaborating with the community to address issues “while also providing a caring environment for our students,” Ahmadi said. School staff members also are being trained to “always be culturally and linguistically responsive, know when to step in and have important conversations with students,” she said.
New security cameras will be installed at Castro Valley High over the summer as part of a multiyear, bond-funded campus renovation.
“My belief is that we are not done until every single child, regardless of their unique circumstances or background, feels supported, safe and has access to the best programs,’” Ahmadi said.
The two graffiti incidents at Castro Valley High School come on the heels of other discrimination incidents that have occurred in Albany, Danville, San Ramon, San Leandro and Palo Alto over the past year. In November, racist graffiti aimed at African-American students was found in several bathrooms at San Ramon’s California High School.
“We have to do something so we can show our young people that we care about them and that where we come from, our socio-economic status, sexual orientation, religion, or family background should never put us at a disadvantage in any of our communities,” Ahmadi said.
“When any one group is attacked, it is an attack on the entire community,” she said.
Contact Darin Moriki at 510-293-2480 or follow him at Twitter.com/darinmoriki.