School community looks toward addressing race issues brought to light by racial epithet

Emily Cerf

A line stretched down the administration hallway as students and staff waited to deliver flowers and cards and give their support to assistant principal LaSandra White.

This outpouring of support was in response to a racist epithet directed at White painted on the spirit ball late Monday or early Tuesday.

The racial slur was discovered by a campus administrator Tuesday morning before the school day began and was quickly painted over as first period started and after pictures were taken, according to principal David Sondheim. The Central Marin Police Authority (CMPA) was quickly contacted to look into possible leads and figure out the immediate steps to addressing the problem at hand.

The administration has asked the police for the incident to be considered a hate crime. The investigation is ongoing, and Sondheim encourages anybody who might have information to please contact the school administration or the CMPA.

“We’ve gotten tips…and how accurate they are, we’ll see,” Sondheim said. “I encourage anybody who has any information to please contact us. This kind of activity we don’t tolerate, and we want to do everything to stop it and make sure it doesn’t continue in any way and that the person who did it gets the appropriate help and consequences.”

Leadership students organized the delivery of flowers and the writing of notes.
Leadership students organized the delivery of flowers and the writing of notes.

However, Sondheim does not believe that this one person’s actions are representative of the school as a whole, a statement exemplified by the amount of support that White received Wednesday.

“The outpouring for support for Ms. White was one of the most beautiful things I have seen in over 30 years of education,” Sondheim said. “I’m incredibly proud of our students and I hope that we will take that same level of determination, dedication and support to the race issues that we have, and to make significant improvements on them as as quickly as possible.”

Junior class president Eamon Rogan, who helped organize Wednesday’s show of support along with ASB president Eric Ahern and other leadership students, was also pleased by the number of people who delivered flowers and cards.

“I was happy we could show support for Ms. White in such great numbers because she is supported at our school,” Rogan said.

Going forward, Sondheim hopes that this level of support will continue as the community takes action to improve race relations.

“Something like this affects more than just a single person, it affects the whole school community,” Sondheim said. “It has been gratifying to see our whole school community come together and I hope we can take that momentum and turn it into action so that that never happens again.”

Sondheim said that he will be working with students, staff and parents to get input on how to address race issues in the community.

“I think we have an amazing student body and staff; and we also have students who feel marginalized or feel prejudiced [against] or feel stereotyped and until we have none of those students or community members who feel that way we have work to do,” Sondheim said.

Senior Carl Simpson-Heil immediately contacted Ms. White after learning of the incident, seeking a way to help address the problem of race in the Redwood community. He met Thursday with members of administration along with two other students to plan a voluntary forum which will allow students and staff to discuss racial issues openly.

“People can come to an area where they are in a safe environment where they can talk about race and racism as an issue,” Simpson-Heil said of the forum. “I think it’s about sharing everybody’s perspectives from different cultures, backgrounds, ethnicities and so on and I think that’s the way we could build a stronger community and understand the way people think and feel.”

These optional student-led forums, which will include a staff member as a facilitator, will begin during advisory next Monday. Meetings have also been planned for after school Tuesday, Sept. 26 and during SMART period on Thursday, Sept. 29.

Rogan also noted that this incident can be used as a learning experience for the Redwood community, a point that the leadership class discussed Thursday.

“I think the best way to move forward is to use it to create an even better community at Redwood,” Rogan said. “[We want to] to do more activities to facilitate community building. We shouldn’t have people hear things that offend them in the hallways… so we should work to eliminate that.”