An open letter to the Santa Monica-Malibu school community:
You may have heard that the Westboro Baptist Church is planning protests throughout the Los Angeles area on Feb. 25. Timed to garner attention from media that will be gathered to cover the Academy Awards, these protests will purportedly be staged in many places, including Santa Monica High School. To be clear, according to its own website, the Westboro Baptist Church engages in these sidewalk demonstrations as an expression of opposition to “the homosexual lifestyle of soul-damning, nation-destroying filth.”
As the leadership team of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, we have an unwavering commitment to teach tolerance, acceptance and compassion for others. It is the mission of the Santa Monica-Malibu School District to ensure that all students are cared for, supported and educated to their highest potential.
To support this mission:
We believe any action that demonstrates intolerance toward others is unacceptable.
We believe in the fundamental dignity and intrinsic worth of every one of our students.
We believe that each and every member of our learning community deserves respect, compassion and appreciation, regardless of his or her sexual orientation, race, religion, gender, national origin, or immigration status.
We condemn any action that purposely attacks, harasses or devalues any student, staff or community member.
Our entire district leadership team stands united in opposition to messages of intolerance and bigotry. We will continue to be a district of inclusiveness, caring and compassion. However, as long as the protesters operate within their constitutional rights, we cannot stop this event.
We are proud to share that the dedicated education professionals at Santa Monica High School are preparing to use this demonstration to deliver real-life lessons about the First Amendment and freedom of speech.
We understand that some members of our community will exercise their First Amendment rights by participating in a counter-protest. We urge counter-protesters to conduct themselves in a peaceful, non-confrontational manner consistent with our district’s educational mission and values.
We will be working closely with the Santa Monica Police Department to ensure that our students and staff have safe access to our campus and that the assembly does not compromise campus safety.
This situation provides an opportunity to stress to our students and our school community that peaceful protests are part of American democracy, and that tolerance and respectful acceptance of cultural diversity is essential in civilized and educated society.
Oscar de la Torre
SMMUSD Board of Education members