BVH experiences hate speech, SUHSD responds with resolution


Photo provided by Roman Del Rosario's statement addressing hate speech

The anti-Semitic post created by students and directed towards IB Environmental Systems and Societies, and AP Environmental Science teacher Jennifer Ekstein is currently under investigation by BVH administrators. In Principal Roman Del Rosario’s statement addressing the hate speech at BVH, he made clear that, with support from SUHSD, BVH would not stand for hate speech. This photo was one of the two attachments in Del Rosario’s statement.

In light of the recent series of hate acts against Jewish and Black communities at Bonita Vista High (BVH), the Sweetwater Union High School District’s (SUHSD) adoption of Resolution No. 4761 aims to address anti-Semitic and other hate acts at a district-level. On Dec. 14—the day after SUHSD adopted the resolution—BVH Principal Roman Del Rosario officially issued a statement to the BVH community addressing the hateful acts committed on campus.

“Bonita Vista High stands with our board of trustees in affirming the rights of Jewish students, staff, and families and will continue to work with the community and other organizations dedicated to addressing anti-Semitism,” Del Rosario’s statement read. “We will continue to investigate all issues related to hateful language, rhetoric and/or actions.”

Since the hate-vandalism that took place on Oct. 31, a series of independent hateful acts have ensued in the following months. BVH staff and students alike have become victims of hate speech in and out of campus. As a result of these actions, Del Rosario held a faculty meeting on Dec. 8 addressing the hate speech occuring on campus and allowing teachers to share their own experiences and thoughts regarding these situations.

“I thought it was important that I raise the level of consciousness of staff, students and parents. I had these teachers that were impacted share their first hand account of the incidents, and read an article by Dr. [Mica] Pollack from UCSD regarding hate speech in classrooms and our duty to confront it when it happens,” Del Rosario said. “I thought it was very good timing for us to bring more attention to that resolution and to also give out a statement that we do not tolerate any manifestation of hate, and [show] the respect we have towards our Jewish community.”

For Advanced Placement Environmental Science and International Baccalaureate (IB) Environmental Systems and Societies teacher Jennifer Ekstein, she has had recent first-hand experience with hate speech. She became victim to anti-Semitism this past month after a post from a student-run Instagram account spotlighted an anti-Semitic comment made by one of the account’s followers.

“It was horrifying. When you look at the post, there were a couple of things that kind of alarmed me; you’re talking about hate speech and Jewish stereotypes,’’ Ekstein said. “My name was actually spelled correctly [but] a lot of students can’t spell my name. So my second thought was, this is a person that’s probably in my classroom or a person that I probably taught, which is very scary.”

Ekstein believes Del Rosario has taken the right steps to addressing this hate speech at BVH. Meanwhile, the SUHSD has yet to create a statement addressing hate speech, particularly anti-Semitism, in schools across the district. As a result of this anti-Semitic speech, Assistant Principal Jason Josafat has been in contact with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). ADL is a non-governmental organization who aims to, as said on their website, “stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.” By working with the ADL, Josafat and BVH administration hope to implement programs to help address some of the issues relating to hate speech at BVH.

It’s not Dr. Del Rosario or Ms. Wise’s job to make sure everything’s safe and treat the school like a prison. It’s all of our jobs to ensure that we have a safe environment.

— BVH Principal Roman Del Rosario

“There’s Jewish staff and students all over our district, not just at Bonita. We’re very special at Bonita because we’ve had Jewish families coming in for 30 to 40 years and we need to protect our students [and] staff, and it starts here. It starts now,” Ekstein said. “It’s not just about our Jewish students, but it’s about protecting all students.”

While Ekstein hopes to see a statement from the district in the future, she also hopes for security cameras at BVH in the coming months or next year as an added level of protection. To her, it is a way to ensure protection for everyone on campus.

“Unfortunately, many of these events have been happening in isolation and because they’re happening in isolation, our staff, students [and] faculty aren’t realizing that this is becoming an epidemic at school,” Ekstein said. 

Among the multiple occasions of hate speech at BVH, Integrated Math 1 and Financial Algebra teacher Ray Peterson has also been targeted by hate speech within his classroom. Peterson recounts that after his student had overheard the perpetrator refer to him with a racial slur, they rushed to inform him of the hate speech. 

“I’m not going to say it had an impact on me, I know what it’s like to be called certain words. What bothered me the most was that other students were impacted […] even though it was technically directed towards me,” Peterson said.

Similarly, Integrated Math 2 and IB Math Analysis and Approaches Higher Level 1 teacher Cristina Hernandez, also discovered that hate speech has been used within her own classroom. According to the teacher, a student had used racial slurs directed towards another student when she was not present in the classroom.

“I was in shock and I felt like I didn’t really know what to do, or how to go about it. I mentioned [at the faculty meeting] that one of my biggest fears was that my students know I heard it and I didn’t do anything about it,” Hernandez said. “That’s not who I am.”

While administration and district officials play a role in diminishing hate speech, Del Rosario and teachers like Peterson and Ekstein believe that parents also have a large part in eliminating hate. They believe that parents must administer their students social media.

“Students have agency where they feel like they can post or say anything; there’s also a moral and ethical dilemma. Parents need to police—and I know this is not a popular thing for teenagers—their social media,” Ekstein said. “I think social media is a huge problem because it allows cowards to post whatever they want, and there’s no repercussions.”

On Dec. 17, BVH experienced a drop in student attendance after videos on social media platform TikTok warned students of the school shooting threats directed towards schools across the country. In response to these videos, administration continues to coordinate with BVHs School Resource Officers regarding this trend. (Carina Muniz)

At BVH, social media trends have played a large role in hate speech and other crime-related trends, like the “devious licks” fad. Most recently, viral TikTok posts threatened users that schools across the country would face mass shootings on Friday, Dec. 17. In response to these threats, Assistant Principal Esther Wise released a statement through Jupiter stating that the district has been in contact with local law enforcement regarding the post.

“Together, we will continue to thoroughly investigate all reported threat information that may have any potential link to any of our schools. This situation serves as a good example of why it is important to talk with your students about not reposting online trends that refer to or could be understood as school safety threats,” Wise said in the statement. “Even if they are not credible threats, they can cause a great deal of stress and anxiety for our students, families, and staff. We keep each other safe so we are asking all BVH Student’s families to monitor their students’ social media activity and speak with them about proper behavior online.”

The threats would go on to incite a dip in student attendance the following day—yet another incident of prospective violence and hate on campus. While Resolution No. 4761 “doesn’t directly dictate our administrative procedures,” according to Del Rosario, it is a “good” way to publicly send notice to stakeholders that SUHSD is paying attention to these important incidents. From this communication comes additional guidance on how to deal with situations in relation to hate speech.

“Having a safe culture is everyone’s job,” Del Rosario said. “It’s not Dr. Del Rosario or Ms. Wise’s job to make sure everything’s safe, and treat the school like a prison. It’s all of our jobs to ensure that we have a safe environment.”