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Care for Our Community in Times of Pain and Unrest

A message from the superintendent and incoming interim superintendent

The last few days have been hard for our country and our community. Like all too many past events, the death of another unarmed person of color did not occur here, but it is felt here, and everywhere.

The senseless death of George Floyd, as well as Ahmaud Arbery and so many others before them, the outpouring of grief and outrage across the country, and the subsequent instances of destruction in some cities, have been on the minds of many students and staff members. There is anger and there is fear.

Our hearts go out to all of those who have exercised their first amendment rights and peacefully protested for a more safe and just society. Please, continue to exercise your freedom of speech, speak your mind and stand up for what you believe in. Let your voices be loud.

Our thoughts also are with all of our students and families, our staff, and our community, but especially our communities of color, who may be impacted by the recent news and events across our country. Know that you are seen and heard.

The damage done by some bad actors to people, property and business owners also hurts and fractures our community. Our local law enforcement agencies are straining to simultaneously support peaceful protest and safeguard persons and property.

As the superintendent of this great district over the past five years, time and again I have communicated to our staff, families and community in support of students who don’t feel safe due to deaths or threats or political events in our country. Too many times.

I’ve grown weary of grief, as have many of you, and of seeing our country torn by systemic injustice and unequal treatment of people because of the color of their skin. For many, this is our national reality: If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.

This hurts. It hurts our families and our community. And with our community stretched and strained after three months under some level of quarantine, the hurt is harder.

As we rise to the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic—teaching remotely, feeding families, providing technology access, supporting our youth’s mental health, and bracing for budget cuts—we must strive too to meet this defining challenge of our time.

When one of our communities is targeted by hatred or impacted by injustice, we all grieve. It is a time to come together and redouble our commitment to standing against institutional racism, making sure our schools are safe spaces for every student, every staff member and every family, and ensuring social justice is at the center of everything we do. We are even more committed to serving and supporting our students of color, who are the too frequent victims of racism and racist acts. We are even more committed to our efforts to ensure that our students and families see themselves represented in our staff, and that our staff of color are safe and supported as well.

Our schools and our community should be safe havens where all children are respected and nurtured, where discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated, and where all can thrive in the expectation of equity and justice.

The safest place for our kids is in our schools. But during this COVID crisis, teachers are not able to connect with our students in our usual brick-and-mortar classrooms. This makes it difficult as students are not able to process their thoughts with their peers and teachers in the usual classroom environment.

In times of unrest, teachers and parents can help children feel safe by establishing a sense of normalcy and security, and talking with them openly about issues that are impacting them, their questions, their anger, and their fears. The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) provides more detailed recommendations in the resources “Talking to Children About Violence” (link), tips for educators (link) and parents (link) for supporting vulnerable students in stressful times, and has shared a call for action (link) to end racism and violence against people of color.

We also need to care for our kids, ourselves and each other. Local resources are available to aid students and adults who find themselves troubled by this past week’s events or other concerns, and need someone to talk to. Crisis support is available 24 hours a day. (link)

Thank you for caring for our community and all of our youth, for yourselves and each other, in difficult times. Together we are strong.

Our society can and must do better, and we must all be part of the solution. Our children are depending on it.

Gustavo Balderas, Superintendent
Cydney Vandercar, Incoming Interim Superintendent
Eugene School District 4J

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