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Snatched stickers send AHS seeking safety

Matthew Janger, principal at Arlington High School, sent the following email to the AHS community about missing safe-zone stickers on Tuesday, April 18:

AHS is committed to being an inclusive school community whose top priority is the safety and well-being of all our students, including those students who are members of groups that have traditionally been the target of discriminated and harassment. It is for this reason that over the past several years safe zone stickers have been put up throughout AHS.

Just over two weeks ago, we became aware that someone had removed "Safe Space" and "Safe Zone" stickers from around the school. We responded inside the school and with the students, but the investigation created some obstacles for communicating with the larger community. I am sending this note to inform folks of what we can share and what we have done to support our students.

The administration realizes that the secret removal of safe zone stickers has caused many within the AHS community to be upset and concerned for their own and others safety and well-being. This matter is being taken very seriously and that a thorough investigation by the administration, the town and the Arlington Police Department is well underway.

In the interim, we believe we have taken appropriate steps to ensure AHS remains a safe and welcoming environment for the entire AHS Community.

Immediately following the discovery of the missing stickers, staff were informed and new stickers and even more signs were placed throughout the school. I spoke to the student body about this the next morning. Later that week, at our Mental Health Awareness Day, a workshop on diversity at AHS gave many students an opportunity to discuss ways we can work together to make our community more supportive and inclusive.

Last Tuesday, our Gay-Straight Alliance led a discussion with the entire ninth grade as part of our Day of Discussion. On Thursday, staff and students work cards observing the Day of Silence, an event that brings attention to the silenced voices of many, particularly the LGBTQ+ community. I was so proud to watch our students respectfully leading and participating in these discussions.

Sadly, this incident occurs in a context for us. We have seen a rise in hate speech around the country. Discussions with nearby communities reveal a rise in incidents of graffiti and bias incidents.

In response to this, the staff began the year by posting statements of support and inclusion and launching an effort called AHS Voices United. You can see examples of some posters here (The scan didn’t come out well and jammed the machine, but I hope you can get an idea).

Through Voices United AHS, staff and administrators have led monthly trainings for groups of students on building empathy and responding to bullying, bias, harassment and degrading language. Staff have had a number of trainings on understanding our diverse community.

We have worked with the Student Council as well, holding events such as a Unity Rally to allow students, staff and administrators to speak together on the importance of an inclusive community. Earlier this year, we held a series of assemblies to respond to the presence of offensive and hateful graffiti. We are proud of the way in which our students have spoken out and helped us to respond to and reduce these incidents.

Bullying, bias, harassment, degrading language and other mean-spirited behavior will not be tolerated at Arlington High School. Parents, guardians and community members can also support us by reinforcing this message. Encourage students to join our many clubs focused on creating a positive school community.

Vandalism, graffiti and degrading language are harmful to our school and community. As an educational community, we welcome and even encourage debate and disagreement, but degrading language and destruction of property are never appropriate.

Unfortunately, discussion of these issues can leave many feeling discouraged or upset. As always, I want to remind everyone that students can reach out to guidance, deans, our school social workers or our nurses.

In addition, if you feel that your student needs mental health resources, I have listed some useful contacts. Walk-in evaluation screening is available through Advocates in Waltham from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. (781-893-2003).

Counseling resources are also available 24 hours at the Massachusetts Suicide Prevention Hotline (800-273-TALK). You can also find additional resources at our guidance website

If you have any questions or information regarding these incidents, please direct them to me.

This news announcement containing opinion was published Tuesday, April 18, 2017.

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