A Public Statement--Moving forward
Date: July 20, 2020
To: Serra High Community
From: Dr. Renfree, Principal and Joseph Schmidt, ASB Director
Dear Serra Community,
We were recently notified that one of our staff members Mr. Schmidt was identified on social media as being in a racially insensitive photograph that was taken seven years ago. The photograph was inappropriate, offensive and does not represent who we are at Serra High School.
As the Principal of Serra High School, upon learning of the incident I spoke to the staff member and contacted the district office and inquired about the situation. After learning the facts of the case, I decided to have Mr. Schmidt write a letter to our community addressing the issue. Mr. Schmidt agreed to discuss the incident publicly as he has acknowledged his participation in it since it happened, and he has talked openly about it when asked for the last seven years. He recognizes he will be atoning for this mistake for the rest of his life; below you will find his statement.
Serra High School has made huge gains in the last few years towards building an inclusive community. The San Diego Board of Education has also approved an ethnic studies course as a requirement for students to graduate starting this Fall. The Ethnic Studies course features the contributions and the historic racism directed towards many communities of color.
This work should continue at home as well. We ask that you speak to your students, share with them the statement (your student may be aware of the incident and you may not even know it as the conversation has been on social media) and lastly encourage yourselves and your students to look through the materials provided at this link: https://youthadvocacy.us/ . Lastly, I encourage everyone to watch the San Diego Unified Board of Education special workshop, Freedom Summer 2020: Building Anti-Racist School Communities, at 3:30 pm tomorrow, July 21. Visit the district website to view on the San Diego Unified YouTube channel or on television, channel 16.
As we move forward, we will identify new ways to teach our staff and students the values we cherish: the development of an inclusive equitable, and supportive culture that accepts every person regardless of race, class, gender, sexual orientation or faith. At Serra High, we are one school. We will come together as a community to learn again from this incident and create a space to heal, learn, and transform to be a better community. We will also be engaging in several professional developments as a staff and educating ourselves further so that we may, as Robin DiAngelo puts it in her book White Fragility: “engage in ongoing self-awareness, continuing education, relationship building, and actual anti-racist practice.”
Mr. Schmidt wrote the following:
Seven years ago, I made a terrible mistake. I honestly had no idea the racist connotations of my action. That, in and of itself is humiliating to me, because I should have known better. I misrepresented myself, my school, my district, and I hurt people I care deeply about.
As a result, I received training from the NAACP, the ADL, and our race human relations department. I was also suspended without pay for several days. These consequences I fully deserved. What I did was wrong. My privilege allowed me to be ignorant, and that is not an excuse.
I desperately wish I could take back what I did. But what I would never take back are the powerful conversations and lessons that I have learned since. Initially, these conversations and lessons were with the NAACP, the ADL, and our district’s race and human relations department. The training I received from these organizations was transformative. As I learned more about the role of the blackface minstrelsy in American history I began to connect the dots, and clearly see how wrong and racist my action was.
As I reflect on my mistake and on the current state of racial discord in light of the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, it becomes very apparent to me the hurt I have caused by perpetuating racist and stereotypical tropes. Humbly, I commit myself to being an ally to the Black Lives Matter movement and to the on-going pursuit of racial and social justice for African Americans.
I made a mistake seven years ago, and I own it, and I am growing from it. But, it does not define who I am. I respect and admire the work that the NAACP and ADL do and I am very open to continuing my learning with them.
Thank you for listening and for your time.
Dr.Erica Renfree, Ed.D.
Serra High School
San Diego Unified School District