Educators, community members gather at OCDE forum to discuss tolerance in schools

More than 200 educators, activists, law enforcement personnel and others gathered Wednesday for a forum aimed at combating incidents of hate in Orange County communities and schools.

This was the second part of the “Building A Stronger, United Community By Addressing Hate-Motivated Incidents in Schools” forum series held at the Orange County Department of Education. Wednesday’s event included roundtable discussions, panel conversations and speakers who addressed how schools can better promote tolerance among students in a diverse county.

“To deal with hate, we have to connect with each other. Sometimes we do good work, but we do it in silos,” said Fareed Farukhi, commissioner on the Orange County Human Relations Commission.

Speakers talk during panel discussionThe commission worked with OCDE to organize both forums, including the one on Jan. 7. The first session was geared more at preventing incidents of hate at the community level. Wednesday’s event focused more on school-level hate prevention.

Speakers included Newport-Mesa Unified School District Supt. Dr. Fred Navarro, who spoke about an incident last year involving district students at a party who made a swastika out of plastic cups. A recording of the act was posted on social media and quickly went viral. Navarro discussed how the district was inundated with media coverage, and how they responded by meeting with community members and talking with students to better understand the mindset of those involved.

Navarro said the district interviewed more than 70 students. Some students saw it as a joke, while others didn’t realize the extent the imagery could have on those who’ve experienced hate, he said. The superintendent recounted how Anne Frank’s stepsister met with students and community members following the incident to share experiences from the Holocaust.

Abby Milone, spokesperson for the Garden Grove Unified School District, spoke about the incident last year involving members of the Pacifica High water polo team, who were recorded waving a Nazi salute and singing a Nazi song. Milone also said the district performed a thorough investigation and worked with community members to address the incident.

All speakers agreed the best way to combat incidents of hate is through education rather than discipline. They discussed how schools everywhere should do a better job of teaching about diversity and inclusion.

“If we work to know ourselves better, we can avoid many of these problems,” said Dr. Al Mijares, Orange County Superintendent of Schools. “It’s a lot harder to hate someone when you know who they are, where they come from, and what obstacles they’ve had to overcome.”