I am working with the family of the student that instigated the “Build a Wall” banner incident at Forest Grove High School yesterday. On my blog, I am sharing the apology letter from the student that was emailed earlier today to the main address of Forest Grove High School. It was addressed to:
Ms. Karen O’Neill
Ms. Tami Erion
Mr. Brian Burke
Mr. Doug Thompson
Ms. Yvonne Curtis
I am sharing it here on my professional blog because the family urgently wants this apology to get to the community. It is being shared with their permission.
Again, this content is from the letter student to Forest Grove high school earlier today, and these are the words and sentiments of that student:
Dear Forest Grove and Cornelius Community,
On May 18th, I hung a banner in Forest Grove High School that said, “Build a Wall.” I don’t actually believe that a wall needs to be built along our border. I wanted to do something provocative to protest what I see as restrictions on freedom of speech. I was feeling like people weren’t open to discuss sensitive issues, because no matter what is said, no matter what words I used, someone says, “That’s offensive!” I was angry, and I thought this would be a great way to express my belief in freedom of speech.
But I now understand that I chose a really bad place and way of expressing my belief on free speech. In trying to be noticeable, I used a message that held a strong, threatening connotation. I did not see that it was as strong or as negative as it was – but now I do. I understand now why it is being called racist and that I’ve made some students feel they and their families are not wanted at Forest Grove High School. That was never my intention.
I am truly sorry for anyone that I have hurt. Because my words did hurt – I understand that now. I will think more carefully in the future about my words and my actions. I still passionately believe in freedom of speech, but I also understand that just because it’s legal to do something doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do.
I will work to learn about other cultures and how different people perceive different messages. I am going to learn much more about the issues of immigrants in the USA, especially Forest Grove, and learn about why they have come, what their life is like, the challenges they face and how they improve this community.
I may be present at the walkout that I have heard is happening later today. I may not. I haven’t decided yet. I haven’t decided yet what’s best for the school, and what I should do regarding my participation. And to anyone that would like to have a formal and sincere conversation accompanied by a verbal apology I would like to make myself available.
I would sincerely ask that people not threaten violence, or engage in violence, over this incident. As students yelled and drove by my home today, I was scared not for myself, but for my family. I love my family very much – a family I have disappointed and that did not raise me this way – and I want them to be safe.
I am withholding the student’s name, but it is known to all school administrators. The family will be working with others to explore ways to further educate this family member, and all their children, about the consequences of words and actions, about racism, and about community responsibilities. Respectful, meaningful suggestions for this family regarding such action are welcomed in the comments section of this blog.
This blog was originally posted at 12:39 p.m. on May 19, 2016. This edit is from 4:34 p.m.:
I did not write the letter. The student wrote the letter. I did edit the first draft of the letter regarding grammar, and later, encouraged him to add some sentences based on things I heard him saying verbally in discussions with his family I was able to observe. The words are all his.
For the press: if you want to confirm that this is the content of the letter that was sent to the school, please call the school – they will confirm for you.
This edit was posted on May 26, 2016 at 9 a.m.:
For folks that want to understand the many circumstances that lead up to this banner being put up and to the protest in Forest Grove on May 19, 2016, there are three media stories that, altogether, provide a good overview of how complicated the issues and feelings in Forest Grove are:
Unlikely allies agree hurtful language cuts both ways
Trump supporters feel the hate
Student protests about more than just a banner
And on a related note is this article about a commencement speaker at California State Fullerton getting booed. What I like about it is that students on both sides of the issue are interviewed.