The topic of hate speech is on a lot of peoples’ minds these days because of recent protests, but the Oregon School District’s new anti-hate speech policy has been more than a year in the making.
The unanimous approval Monday, June 15, makes Oregon perhaps the first in the state to set an anti-hate speech policy separate from its harassment policy, said OSD deputy superintendent Leslie Bergstrom, who will succeed Brian Busler as superintendent next month.
The policy covers more than just words, but gestures, clothes and actions of both students and staff, OSD corporate counsel Jina Jonen told the school board. It’s also a “365-day” policy that includes actions when they are off school grounds, such as on social media.
Bergstrom said district officials sought input on the document from partners such as Madison’s Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development and Percy Brown, director of equity and student achievement for the Middleton Cross Plains Area School District. One of the key items Brown suggested is giving students an opportunity to write “impact statements” when incidents happen.
“He said allowing students to be extremely explicit on how this impacted them is important for the student who is victimized, and important for us to help gain a better understanding, and also align consequences for students who commit acts of hate speech,” Bergstrom said. “We know the impact is social-emotional, as well as even impacting their ability to be academically successful if they don’t feel safe in a school or in a classroom.”
Jonen said according to U.S. Supreme Court cases, there is legal precedent for the district’s policy to include off-campus activity.
“You still have free speech rights, but you don’t have the right to threaten or harass someone,” Jonen said. “The impact inside school is very real for our staff and students.”
The policy does not include educational materials or lessons that are used by the district or its staff “in good faith.”
“We’re doing this for many reasons,” Bergstrom said. “The biggest is to show how important we know it is to our students and the kind of culture we want to create.”