Important Message from Superintendent Bowers
June 5, 2020
Dear Livermore Community:
The safety and wellbeing of our students has always been a high priority for our school district, and for me, both personally and professionally. Also of utmost priority is actively listening to our students when they express their genuine concerns and fears, and doing whatever I can, along with my colleagues, to address and allay them. We have taught our students to “see something, say something” and when they “say something” it is imperative that we, as adults who they turn to for solace, guidance, and to “make things right,” not just “say something” but actually do something. It is our responsibility to respond and make their world and their experiences on our campuses better for them, so that they can truly “contribute and thrive” as our District mission states.
And so, over these several years, together, as a school district and in coordination with our larger community, we have tackled major issues and threats to our students’ sense of safety and wellness in our schools.
In the wake of horrifying mass school shootings across our nation, we held multiple student safety forums that included our Board of Education, our County Supervisor, our Mayor, Police Chief, and mental health experts, to focus on improving campus security and reducing emotional isolation. We listened to our students, and as a result, made facility improvements, introduced safety drills and new communication systems with our families, and are implementing the Choose Love social emotional curriculum district-wide.
When our Peer Health Educators, parents, and staff came forward to express valid concerns about the increasing vaping epidemic and its harmful effect on our students’ health as well as its disruption of our school learning environment, we listened. We conducted research and educated ourselves. Our district and students raised awareness community-wide, presenting to our City Council, LARPD, Rotary Clubs, LPD, and other community groups and leaders, resulting in successful adoption of one of the first citywide Tobacco Retail License Ordinances in our nation, designed to restrict youth access to harmful products, leading the way for other cities and communities to follow suit. Along with our City and LPD, we jointly applied for and were awarded a competitive State grant to support these efforts.
And when our students and their parents shared that they and some of their peers were struggling with anxiety, depression, sleeping or eating disorders, substance abuse, trauma, sleeplessness, or even suicidal thoughts, we increased our counseling team members, forged new community partnerships with experts in the field, developed a Mental Health Matters resource hub on our website, added a Care Solace hotline, and co-sponsored the Z-Cares showings of the film Angst, followed by powerful panel discussions, in order to destigmatize mental illness. We wanted to make sure that students know “it is okay to not be okay” and that there are plenty of adults ready and capable of intervening and helping them learn to cope with the increased stressors and very real challenges of growing up in the digital age.
And for most of this year, we have emphasized the need to ensure the health and safety of our students, staff, and families in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Again, we educated ourselves, our staff and students about the disease. We reinforced the need for deep cleaning of our campuses, careful handwashing, physical distancing, and wearing of personal protective equipment. Our focus has been to prevent the spread of COVID-19, an insidious virus that has infected our planet, and again, to keep our students, staff and campuses safe from harm.
Which leads me to today. Although school is not in session, we are still connected with and engaging with our students. They have learned to be upstanders, not just bystanders. They have learned to “see something, say something.” They, like all of us, have seen the brutal image and horrendous circumstances of George Floyd’s death. It is imprinted in their memories. George Floyd’s last breath and voice were silenced. Our students’ voices are raised in alarm, and call us to action. Over the past week, many of our African American students, along with our Student Board representatives and concerned classmates, have raised their voices, expressed their fears and concerns to their parents, administrators, and to me, in the wake of the death of George Floyd. They want and deserve assurances that we, the adults entrusted with their care on our campuses, will protect them from harm and from the destructive effects of injustice, racism, bias, and prejudice, both explicit and implicit. They don’t want us to just “talk the talk” -- they need us to walk the talk, with them.
I am reminded of Martin Luther King, Jr’s quote, “Our lives begin to end, when we begin to be silent about things that matter.” Our students matter. Their concerns, emotional well-being, and physical safety matter. The fears of our African American students are reaI, and as their Superintendent I cannot be silent.
Earlier this week, many of our students participated in a peaceful protest and march in our city, and some were heckled and taunted by other students for doing so. This taunting is absolutely unacceptable and is not in keeping with what we model and teach. Carrying the situation to social media only makes it fester. Social media is not a problem solving forum. Solutions are developed when we work together to solve problems. While these incidents did not happen on our campus or under our jurisdiction as a school district, because they involved our students, we must respond. Our work as educators is to make sure that everyone on our campuses feels valued and respected; and until that is the case, our work is not done.
And so, I have already begun to invite my colleagues, our administrators, our community and civic leaders to join me, and engage directly with our students, in a series of forums and conversations to surface our weaknesses and shortcomings in this area, in an effort to right them. The urgency cannot be denied; and the dialogue and our work must begin in earnest.
Not long ago, I affirmed our commitment to our students and their safety and wellbeing on our campuses. This was during the time when we held a safety forum with our migrant students, who were fearful for their own and their families’ futures. I, along with our Board President, our Mayor, and our Police Chief responded to our students' concerns firsthand. At that time, I publicly affirmed our commitment to our students, All Kids Are Our Kids, and that affirmation is not just a well-worded statement; it encompasses everything that I believe and stand for.
Our students have spoken. Their pleas have been heard. I am going to stand up for our students of color. I implore you to stand with me and by them, as well.
Kelly Bowers, Ed.D.