Friday, June 26, 2020
Dear Penn Charter Community,
As promised, I am writing to follow up on my earlier correspondence about Black Lives Matter and social media posts from OPCs regarding sexual harassment and violence.
Since my letter two days ago, we have learned of additional social media posts about racism and sexual misconduct, including several current or former students who posted about sexual harassment or assault by PC students. The pain expressed by our students and graduates in these posts is heartbreaking.
In addition, one of the posts raised concerns about the conduct of a current Penn Charter employee. Please know that we are carefully reviewing the information being shared publicly and we are following our school policies to guide our response to this and all reports. That response includes seeking additional information from students or other individuals about specific concerns raised on social media or directly to the school.
In addition, as part of Penn Charter's interest in better understanding the culture and climate our students experience within our school, we encourage all PC students, families, alumni, staff and faculty to share your experiences or perspectives about race, sex, gender or other concerns that impact(ed) your physical or psychological safety or your experience at PC.
We are providing several opportunities to be heard, including anonymous options, in hopes of receiving candid feedback. These opportunities augment, and are not intended to replace, the listening sessions, Meetings for Worship, and group and interpersonal dialogue already underway. Many of us have been speaking with current students, OPCs, parents and different faculty work groups.
Here are three additional ways you can enter into this dialogue and speak your truth:
Contact the school directly. You can share your experiences with any of the following people:
- Assistant Head of School Beth Glascott, email@example.com or 215-844-3460 ext. 121;
- Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Antonio Williams, firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-844-3460 ext. 161;
- The counselors in each division also are available: Upper School, Elizabeth Hitschler, email@example.com 215-844-3460 ext. 205; Middle School, Katie Martin, firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-844-3460 ext. 352; Lower School Lisa Reedich, email@example.com or 215-844-3460 ext. 171. Please feel free to contact any of the individuals listed here, regardless of whether you or your student is in that division.
Contact the following external professionals, whom we have engaged to create a space for individuals to come forward who might wish to maintain their anonymity or report to an individual outside of the school:
- Sherry Coleman is a nationally recognized DEI practitioner with more than 30 years experience in and with independent schools as a teacher, administrator, and consultant. Dr. Coleman works as a coach, advisor and organizational specialist with a lens for diversity, equity and anti-racism training. She has worked nationally on equity and inclusion initiatives through training, structural and group dynamics. Contact information: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Jennifer Bullock is a psychotherapist with extensive experience offering trauma-informed treatment of adolescents and their families and is a consultant with forensic and clinical expertise in childhood sexual abuse. Contact information: 215-957-5073 or email@example.com.
Share information online, anonymously or with your contact information, at this survey. The information in this survey will be monitored by Sherry Coleman and Jennifer Bullock, the external professionals named above.
All information gathered will be shared, individually and in the aggregate, with task forces created to address issues of race; issues of gender equity, consent and sexuality education; and other issues that surface. The names of the individuals who contact the school, the counselors or the external professionals will not be shared with the task forces. Specifically, the work of the task forces will address core questions, including:
- how can we better value and respect our Penn Charter students, including students of color;
- how can we best foster an environment that promotes respect and teaches students how to prevent and report sexual harassment and sexual violence;
- are there gaps in our curricular or co-curricular offerings regarding key social issues our students routinely confront; and,
- how can we reinforce care and support for students and community members impacted by racial or sexual harassment or violence and instill responsibility and accountability for individuals who violate school policies or the core tenets of our Quaker values.
As a reminder, all Penn Charter employees are required by Pennsylvania law and Penn Charter policy to report suspected abuse and neglect of a minor. We encourage PC community members to similarly report any potential abuse, neglect or criminal conduct to child protective services and local law enforcement authorities. You may report suspected abuse or neglect of a minor to the Pennsylvania ChildLine and Abuse Registry at 800-932-0313 or electronically through the Child Welfare Portal. Consistent with our practice, we will share information gathered in this review as required by state law.
Seeking truth, making amends, and making change is the difficult work that we must do as a school.
It is our hope that information gathered through this work will both acknowledge the pain of those adversely affected and determine a way forward to inform our actions, adjust our curriculum and improve the culture of Penn Charter.
From the Head of School
Wednesday, June 24, 2020
Dear Penn Charter Community,
I write you about two critical issues facing our students, staff, faculty, alumni, parents and Penn Charter community. Earlier yesterday, I planned a communication to share with you Penn Charter's ongoing and unwavering attention to the issues brought so starkly into focus through the Black Lives Matter movement. Later yesterday, I learned about social media postings describing incidents of sexual and gender-based harassment at Penn Charter, including an alumna's posting about her experience of sexual assault at Penn Charter in 2014. I am compelled to address both issues in this communication, without diminishing the importance of either. Please indulge me and read this letter in its entirety.
Black Lives Matter
Our nation, our city, and our school are hurting. Since I last wrote on May 31 in the aftermath of the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and now Rayshard Brooks, and so many more, I have been hearing the painful accounts of many of our students, graduates, faculty and staff about experiences while at Penn Charter and in their lives beyond campus. As a nation and a community, we have opened deep and long-held wounds. It is raw, it is painful, and it is overwhelming. I believe what we are now witnessing in our world is a movement to break down four centuries of systemic and institutional racism even while people find their voices to confront individual racist acts closer to home, in our own communities and in our school. That movement is built on the power of personal narrative and collective experience.
Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter, among many things, is a movement to end the painful experiences that we, as people of color, have suffered as the recipients of individual micro- and macro-aggressions directed at us. It is a movement to alleviate the burden that people of color bear to educate others about institutional racism, norms of discourse, and confronting racist behaviors. BLM is a movement about race highlighting both the individual level of physical and mental harm caused and, at the institutional and organizational level, about racist structures that are in the DNA of organizations, and which continue to perpetuate harm.
Penn Charter is not immune. Our structures, while founded on Quaker values, do not stand independent of the influences of hundreds of years of a nation with structural racism at its foundation. We have the privilege and the obligation to ensure that we do not perpetuate systemic or individual racism.
At Penn Charter, we need to confront racism on all levels: to eradicate individual acts of racism, to teach anti-racist behaviors and to evaluate and eradicate the vestiges of systemic and institutional racism. As an institution, we have been engaged in individual and collective efforts with our students and alumni. It is clear we need to do more.
Students, OPCs and faculty who are speaking out about their experiences and advocating for racial equity and justice and a better Penn Charter are doing so because they care deeply for our school. We have heard a repeated perspective that Penn Charter has not always responded in a manner that is consistent with our institutional values.
As an administration, faculty, board, alumni and student body, we need to do better to live out the Quaker testimony of equality and to instill this ideal into the very fabric of our daily work in classrooms and art rooms, on playing fields and concert stages, and even in the hallways of our school.
We want to create intentional spaces to hear the experiences and narratives of our students, employees and alumni, and will be encouraging all Penn Charter community members to speak up, to share the burden, and to help us embrace the tension of these difficult issues.
Intersection with Sexual Violence
Over the past several years, as a nation we have heard many firsthand accounts of sexual harassment and assault in K-12 schools, colleges and universities, sports, and many areas of business and industry. Just as in the Black Lives Matter movement, the power of personal narratives has been persuasive and compelling, and has served to drive cultural change and improve institutional responses across the nation.
There is often an intersectionality between race, gender and class, and in systems of power and privilege, racial violence often has an overlay of sexual violence.
This afternoon, I learned of a social media post by an OPC who reported, anonymously, that she was raped by a fellow PC student in 2014. Consistent with our practice, we shared the post with law enforcement. The OPC highlighted a lack of education and supportive resources for students who experience sexual violence. Other OPCs have also spoken about their experiences at Penn Charter, about a culture that left them feeling unsafe and unprotected, and the need for education about consent and sexual assault.
We are grateful to these OPCs for sharing their experiences and helping to initiate a critical dialogue. Over the past decade, we have offered expanded programming for our students regarding issues of sexual assault, consent and healthy relationships, focusing primarily on eighth grade and Upper School curriculum. With younger students, we focus on boundaries, personal space, consent and communication. We continually evaluate the information we provide and recognize that there will always be a need to do more to educate our students and to promote respect.
An environment in which our students, faculty and staff feel physically or psychologically unsafe is unacceptable at our school. Yet, it has been present for far too many of our students during their time at Penn Charter. While not the case for every student, if we have even one student who is unsafe, we have failed as a community and as a school.
I am profoundly sorry for what the students I have heard from have experienced and I thank them for advocating for physical safety and gender equity. This is what each student at Penn Charter should be afforded at our school. I hope to hear from more of you.
Seeking the truth is at the core of Quakerism. While painful to recount traumatic experiences, we want to hear from you. We want to hear your truths so Penn Charter can strive to make amends where things went wrong and to do better for our current and future students.
Please continue to reach out to us so we can further our work on these most pressing issues before us. In addition, we will engage external professionals to collect your truths about race or sexual misconduct to inform our board, our administration and our community.
It is our hope that hearing your truths will lead to a more just and equitable Penn Charter and world.
Darryl J. Ford
Head of School
June 19, 2020
Dear Upper School Community,
As members of the Upper School administration, writing on Juneteenth, we would like to take this opportunity to affirm our support for Black lives and the efforts by many in communities to dismantle systems of racism and injustice. We recognize that our own community is not immune from these problems, and we know students of color have experienced racism and prejudice at our school. This is unacceptable and must stop. As a Friends school, certain values are central to our community, among them: equality, justice and seeing that of God in each person. Unfortunately, this has not always been the experience of students of color at Penn Charter. Racism and prejudice in the form of microagressions, jokes and other slights are unfortunate regular features of our students' education, and they must cease.
We are listening, and we will change.
Recent events have confirmed the following truths:
- Black Lives Matter.
- Our students face racism and prejudice at Penn Charter.
- We need to and can do more to make the entire school a safe space.
- Our Quaker values provide the blueprint for the transformation of our community.
- Undoing racism and injustice within our community must be the number one priority for all of us when school resumes this fall.
We must listen!
We must learn!
We must change!
Erin P. Hughes, Director of Upper School
Antonio C. Williams, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Lee Payton, Assistant Director of Upper School
June 3, 2020
Dear Penn Charter Community,
I wish to assure our community that recent horrific acts — the deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, and racism directed toward Christian Cooper — are deeply felt and require action, not just words. These events bear further witness to the deep, generational, systematic racism that African Americans, other people of color and all disenfranchised people painfully experience. Violence and social injustice are intolerable yet common to this group.
Racism must stop. The physical, emotional, and psychological weight that African Americans and people of color have had to carry, a weight that is even greater now, is a pain that must end. I am sorry for the pain of systematic racism and the trauma recent events have caused Penn Charter students, families, faculty, staff and OPCs of color. Black Lives Matter.
Kenneth Frazier, Chairman and CEO of Merck, said in a recent interview that he could have been George Floyd. I can't make that statement. Kenneth Frazier is black. I am white. To live a life of fear, of being pulled out of a car and suffocating at the hands of police or going for a jog and being murdered because of the color of your skin is inhumane. White people may understand this social dichotomy, but they don't live it and no one should.
We are a diverse community at Penn Charter. This is a source of strength and at times conflict. Our community is hurting and we need to move towards healing. I call to action our board, faculty and staff, parents, OPCs and students to come together to do more, to lead a movement to promote antiracism not only at Penn Charter but in the communities that we live in and serve. I am not certain what this work will be, but guided by our Quaker values, I know we will move meaningful work forward. We must. We need to do more. We will do more.
Clerk of Overseers
June 1, 2020
Dear Members of the Penn Charter Community,
After last week and an intense weekend of watching the news and events evolving from the death of George Floyd, I am compelled to write you about this, another senseless and sad death of another black man.
I write to express my sadness about the tragic events that we continue to witness in our world. The images of George Floyd on the ground pleading for his life and the events surrounding Ahmaud Arbery sicken my stomach and stoke my own fears for the safety of my sons and every young person.
On Friday afternoon, a group of more than 100 Penn Charter students and faculty and staff participated in a virtual, focused Meeting for Worship. Organized and facilitated by Antonio Williams, Penn Charter's director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the guiding query stemmed from the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: "I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear?"
During that Meeting, consistent messages from students expressed fear, disappointment in how we as a school have dealt with and responded to racial incidents at Penn Charter and the world, and a generalized sense of being tired about having to be the educators to others about the impact these incidents have on them and people of color. Included, too, in these messages were a desire for additional allies to be part of the difficult conversations and education on racial injustice, messages of support of one another and of hope, faith and solidarity. I was proud of our students' vocal ministry during Meeting for Worship and aware of the trauma they were experiencing, trauma which has only intensified for many of our students after the events in our city this weekend.
Through my communications, you know this has been a year of sadness for me. Now, in addition to all the other issues we have faced, we are confronted with COVID-19 and a worldwide pandemic. I believe all of this is compounded by an all-or-nothing moment in our society when one's particular view is singularly "right" or singularly "wrong." In other words, if you are right, then I am wrong, and if you are wrong, then I am right. This obdurate dichotomy leaves no place in the middle for discussion, growth, empathy or understanding. Without this space, there is no place for adult growth and redemption, and there is no place for student growth and redemption. Without this space, human lives become disposable.
I am reminded of the Quaker testimony of equality, which calls us to see that of God in every person, and also of one particular message at Friday's Meeting for Worship — a call for human decency in how we interact and treat each other. Human decency. Such a simple thought but so difficult to achieve when injustices of racism, classism, homophobia, among many others, remain and divide us in so many ways and when we watch the death of George Floyd and others before our eyes. While I don't have a formula of how to right the injustices of today's world, I write to you today to name what we have witnessed and to be reminded of a student's clarion call for us all to act with and treat others with human decency.
Darryl J. Ford
Head of School
Living Our Mission: Learn more about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Penn Charter.