Virginia Beach principal sends letter to parents regarding hateful comments since election

Posted at 5:12 PM, Nov 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-14 23:15:01-05

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - The principal at Princess Anne Middle School sent a lengthy e-mail home to parents Monday about students' dialogue since Election Day.

The letter starts with, "I am writing to ask for your help."

See the full letter sent home by Dr. Alex Bergren at the bottom of this story.

Dr. Alex Bergren said he has been "dismayed and surprised" to have received several reports of students who have been victimized by "disrespectful and at times, hateful" comments that have been made.

Among the comments listed in the letter, he wrote, "You are going to be sent back to your country now," and "we are going to build a wall in the school and put you on the other side of it."

"My biggest concern was that it had taken on a tone of, taken on a racial tone, and I felt like that was particularly alarming," he tells News 3. "I wanted to get ahead of it before it became something even bigger."

Dr. Bergren says he wanted to make sure the message first starts at home. In the e-mail, he asks parents to put politics aside and talk about the universal and quintessentially American values.

"Say, let's focus on kindness and respect and cooperation and self control," he says. "Instead of running from a difficult conversation, if we actually have the conversation, I think we can make a difference that's very positive."

Among the schools' plans, they are launching a "We are Panthers" campaign next week.

Dr. Bergren says he is also meeting with their Student Advisory Committee on Tuesday, a group made up school leaders. He hopes that jumpstarts their message.

"Honestly our kids are the ones that will carry the message, maybe more powerfully than the rest of us."

Full letter sent to parents:

Dear Parents/Guardians,

I am writing to ask for your help.

I have been dismayed and surprised to have received several reports of students who have been victimized by disrespectful and at times hateful comments by other students in the days following the election. Here are just some examples of the comments that have been made: “You are going to be sent back to your country now”; “we are going to build a wall in the school and put you on the other side of it”; “we get to frisk you now.”

Please know I am not writing with a partisan viewpoint. I recognize there are a wide range of emotions people are experiencing following the election. That is a testament to our diversity. I also recognize most kids are not part of the problem, but all kids need to be part of the solution.

I am, however, writing to advocate for the preservation of a set of values I believe we as a community embrace and wish to foster in our children. These are universal and quintessentially American values like respect, kindness, self-control, responsibility, and cooperation. They are values that transcend politics and popular culture. They are values that we will advocate for and protect in our school.

A first grade teacher perhaps captured our responsibility to our children in this simple message she wrote for her students: “As many of you have probably heard, we have a new president of our country. The president makes big decisions for our country. But YOU get to make big decisions as well. Choose to be kind to people. Choose to do the right thing. Choose to love the things that make us all different and special. You don’t have to be a grown-up to make our country a better place.”

Every day, nearly 1500 young people arrive at Princess Anne Middle School to learn. Every single one of those young people has the right to learn in a place where they are safe, both emotionally and physically, every single day. As the adults, both those who work in the school and those who send their kids to the school, we have the responsibility to protect that safety even as we foster the positive values we expect them to display, and intervene to redirect and condemn behaviors that are counter to those values and threaten that safety.

In this spirit, if you have not already done so, will you take the time to have a conversation with your children about three things? First, talk about how critical it is to continue to embody and model the positive values we embrace even in the face of cultural influences that might model the opposite. Second, please remind them that at school we will do our best protect the safety of every student and will take steps, including discipline, to ensure those students who threaten the safety of others are corrected. Third, speak with them about the importance of standing up for what is right by taking appropriate action when they are witness to destructive behaviors.

I also want you to know we will be taking steps at Princess Anne to shine a light on those values. I will be launching a “We are Panthers” campaign next week to engage students in defining the values and behaviors that make us proud to be Panthers. I will address all students with a positive message that challenges them to rise above negative influences. I will be asking teachers and counselors to facilitate conversations with students about how we can all be part of ensuring we all work to realize the potential of our best selves.

I am a proud member of our community. I believe our diversity makes us strong and rich, and our ability to find common ground in the values that make us fundamentally good makes us even stronger. We cannot tear each other down, and we cannot allow our children to tear each other down. One of the things that unites all of us is our love for our children and our desire to ensure they all develop into the amazing people they have the potential to be.

There’s no doubt the election brought out deep emotions in many people. Our leaders have rightly called for healing and unity. Perhaps the CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, said it best when he wrote the following to his employees (I replaced the word “stores” with “schools”): “Whether you are pleased or disappointed by the outcome, we each still have a choice. Today and every day, we have a choice in how we treat one another in our homes, in our neighborhoods, and of course in our schools. We can choose to answer the challenges of the day with kindness and compassion. We can choose to listen, to understand and to act with respect. We can choose to live by the values that reside in each of us, and honor our commitment to nurture the human spirit with love, and offer everyone in our schools and communities a place of inclusion and optimism.”

I will expect our students to make the right choices. I appreciate your support in ensuring every child can come to school and learn in environment where they are treated with dignity and respect every day.

Please feel free to reach out to me or any member of my administrative team should you have questions or concerns.

Best regards,

D. Alex Bergren