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'Help us feel safe at school': Biglerville High School students call for social justice after racism concerns

Students, who wish to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, have created a Facebook page and petition where they share their experiences with racism.

BIGLERVILLE, Pa. — Update February 3, 2021: Upper Adams School District is working with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) leadership to create a comprehensive plan to address past and present allegations of discrimination at Biglerville High School.

A statement reads in part, "The Upper Adams School District takes the concerns of its community very seriously and does not tolerate racism in any form, nor does it condone the behaviors that have been shared recently on various social media accounts. The experiences described do not reflect the School District’s values of respect and inclusivity."

All students and parents are asked to report any racist or bullying behavior through the Safe2Say Something School Safety Program at Safe2SayPa.org (https://www.safe2saypa.org), where information may also be reported anonymously.

The statement goes on to state the ways in which PHRC is working with the district to make positive changes and begin the healing process, including: 

  • PHRC will provide Unconscious Bias Training for school faculty, staff and administrators at no cost to the School District. 
  • In addition, PHRC is providing recommendations and a diverse panel of experts to work with the School District, including Biglerville High School staff, on an ongoing basis with regularly scheduled sessions over the next few years to ensure that the school leadership is actively working to create a culturally relevant environment to affect meaningful change. 
  • Additionally, PHRC recommends that the School District administrators work collaboratively with the Adams County PHRC Advisory Council to open a conversation and conduct training in the community. 
  • PHRC will also help to facilitate an open forum to provide a brave space for therapeutic healing for all of those affected by this situation. The School District and the PHRC want to assure the community that the voices of students are essential to this change process and that students have a lot to teach us and the organizations are listening.

“Every student, of every background, is at the heart of our purpose and mission every day in the Upper Adams School District. I know I speak for our entire board, administration and staff when I say that we are deeply saddened by the stories being shared and we are fully committed to listening to our students, parents and community to identify and address any and all confirmed cases of racist behavior, discrimination and bullying. We are immediately working with racism experts at the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission to develop expanded training and student outreach through the creation of brave spaces where students may communicate their experiences comfortably and start the healing process,” Wesley T. Doll, Ed.D., Superintendent of Upper Adams School District said.

More than 1,500 people have signed onto an online petition which calls to help Biglerville High School students feel safe at school while holding students and staff accountable for alleged racist views within the school community.

The petition on Change.org also includes anonymous stories from students and alumni which detail their accounts of abuse by students and staff in the Upper Adams School District.

Creators of the petition share different examples of racism they say students experienced: 

  • “I am a 14-year-old black female student. [A teacher] told me Breonna Taylor’s death by police violence was her own fault.”
  • ”They saw me on the stairs and said, “Look what we have here boys, a live walking n*****! Where’s your posse?” They hit my books out of my hands and called me a pu**y and a stupid n*****. I got sent to the office for being late to class."

The petition wants Biglerville High School to:

  • Issue a ZERO tolerance policy against racism and discrimination for all students, student athletes, staff, teachers, and administrators.
  • Implement punishments for students that racially target their peers and kick them off sports teams.
  • Issue a public apology to students of color.
  • Draft a new code of conduct with more detailed policies against racial and cultural discrimination.
  • Fire staff who are complicit with white supremacy

The petition comes as several social media accounts, including "Racism at Biglerville High School" on Facebook, have surfaced where students and alumni share the detailed discrimination they say they have experienced.

Credit: "Racism at Biglerville High School"

Students claim they are being asked to take down the social media posts. They tell FOX43 they are concerned they will be retaliated against for sharing their stories. They say they are also worried they will be "silenced." 

"They're sweeping it under the carpet like it's nothing, they don't know what it's like to be judged by the color of your skin or ethnicity," one student told FOX43.

"They literally stripped me naked in the office with the two deans of students staring at me. That was the first time," said David Angeles, a Biglerville High School graduate.

Angeles says that happened twice in his time as a student; he says he was accused of being a drug dealer. He says his parents weren't called either time, and no drugs were found.

"They're going to see this and say, 'why didn't you tell us?'" explained Angeles. "I was just embarrassed. Humiliated."

"Kids go through stuff at home, and they go to school to get their mind right. They can't get their mind right, so they lash out," said Ashley Armstrong, also a gradate.

Armstrong says she became one who lashed out and fought former classmates after she says some students repeatedly called her racial slurs. It happened many times over the years in her time as a student. Armstrong says her fists eventually stopped classmates from calling her names; however, she says students then targeted other kids.

"It's not just the black kids. It's the Spanish kids, a lot of foreign exchange students," said Armstrong.

"I was always in in-school suspension, always, always, always. I have problems communicating with my wife, because I was always isolated," added Angeles. "I just want it to stop. I have daughters now, and I don't want them to go through what I went through."

Officials say they are addressing the social media posts by having the high school principal and assistant principal available to listen and hear students who wish to share experiences, thoughts, feeling, and/or ideas. 

In a letter from Superintendent Wesley Doll to the community, Doll also encourages students to speak with their guidance counselors, if it's more comfortable. 

Credit: Upper Adams School District

The letter reads: 

"All across our country, people are exercising their constitutional right to speak out against injustice, including racial injustice and inequality. As a District leader it is important for me to listen and understand the imperfections that may exist in our democracy and understand how this impacts our students when they are in our schools. This process also includes continuing the conversations on equity, diversity, and inclusion in pursuit of solutions. Recently we were made aware of social media accounts that were created and titled 'Racism at Biglerville High School.' While social media may bring attention to a concern, it is not a platform that is conducive to addressing current concerns in order to find potential solutions."

Doll goes on to state that faculty and stuff are working to address the concerns. He says the district is using protocols and policies which address equity, diversity, and inclusion. He adds:

"The District strictly prohibits discrimination, harassment and bullying of any kind. It has been and will continue to be the District’s policy to provide an equal opportunity for all students to achieve their maximum potential without discrimination on the basis of race, color or other protected status."

Doll says Upper Adams School District has a variety of reporting methods for students and adults to notify district employees anonymously or face-to-face, according to Doll. People who think they have been subject to harassments or discrimination are encouraged to report it to their building principal. 

"Together, we will get through this most difficult time for our country and our School Community. If you have ideas or experiences that you believe can help as we navigate our way forward, we encourage you to share them with your school administrators. We welcome the conversation," wrote Doll. "We will continue to review our practices, policies, and procedures to ensure that students in our care have equal opportunities that allow our children to become the people they dream of becoming. We want them college and career ready. We truly love all our students and we want each student to walk through the school door each morning feeling safe and comfortable to achieve their personal interests." 

Doll also stated Upper Adams had police presence to "assist in creating a comfortable environment for the school community."

A spokesperson for Upper Adams declined an on-camera interview with FOX43 on Tuesday, saying officials are receiving feedback from students, parents, staff, and community members. They said more could be released after that data is collected. They are encouraging those who have experienced discrimination or harassment to report it. People can go to UpperAdams.org, and click on about us to see Safe2Say Something information.

The district also sent FOX43 its discrimination policy. It reads in part, "The district strives to maintain a safe, positive learning environment for all students that is free from discrimination. Discrimination is inconsistent with the educational and programmatic goals of the district and is prohibited on school grounds, at school-sponsored activities and on any conveyance providing transportation to or from a school entity or school-sponsored activity. "

It also states, "Violations of this policy, including acts of retaliation as described in this policy, or knowingly providing false information, may result in disciplinary consequences under applicable Board policy and procedures."

You can view the policy in its entirety here.

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