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Newport-Mesa task force recommends new programs, resources after student swastika party

OC Human Relations Chief Executive Alison Edwards speaks to the Newport-Mesa Unified School District board of trustees.
Alison Edwards, left, speaks to the Newport-Mesa Unified School District board of trustees Tuesday. Edwards is the chief executive of OC Human Relations, which helped facilitate discussions for the district’s Human Relations Task Force.
(Lilly Nguyen)

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District Human Relations Task Force recommended adding educational programs and increasing resources for parents Tuesday night following months of discussion on how to foster greater cultural understanding and acceptance on campuses.

Among the proposals the task force presented to the district board of trustees were conducting a district-wide equity audit, creating a review of workshops available to parents on topics such as empathy and compassion and implementing the Anti-Defamation League’s “No Place for Hate” anti-bigotry and bullying program as year-round curriculum.

“The whole purpose of it is that it runs the whole year,” district employee and presenter Kimberly O’Brien said of the ADL program. “This is not a, ‘Let’s have one good kindness day’ or, ‘This is kindness week’ and then we don’t talk about it. This is something that is every day, throughout the whole school year, and it becomes a way of life.”

The Human Relations Task Force initially formed in response to community outcry after photos taken at an off-campus party in Costa Mesa showed Newport-Mesa students giving Nazi salutes over a swastika made out of red plastic cups as part of a drinking game.

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Students have previously said teenagers from Newport Harbor, Costa Mesa and Estancia high schools attended the party.

The task force was divided into four subcommittees. Each was directed by a facilitator from OC Human Relations, a nonprofit based in Santa Ana, to respond with new ideas and possible solutions to issues that community members brought up during the task force’s first informational meeting in March.

Each subcommittee focused on different topics: opportunities for cross-cultural dialogue, policy and processes, empowering youth and, more broadly, education.

Among the recommendations from the cross-cultural dialogue subcommittee was to teach students in kindergarten through sixth grade the history of other cultural celebrations and holidays, or just fun facts relating to another culture. As an example, presenter Carol Crane suggested Juneteenth — a celebration of the abolition of slavery commemorating the day Texas honored the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865.

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Another subcommittee suggested creating opportunities for parents and educators to build community and learn how to best support students.

Alison Edwards, chief executive of OC Human Relations, said the recommendations are expected to be the beginning of a long-term district effort to address community issues.

“As we look forward, the task force is already beginning to look at additional recommendations,” she said.

Edwards added the task force also would look at community dialogue to engage parents differently and explore how to expand restorative practices and translate current recommendations and concerns into a sustainable long-term plan.

Newport-Mesa board President Charlene Metoyer said the next step for the board is to go through the report and see what can be done or implemented immediately.

“I know that we can’t change the entire curriculum and move everything ... but we also don’t want to use, ‘Oh, it’s too late. It will take too long. We can’t get it done,’” Metoyer said. “We don’t want to do that. I know we are anxious to get something going, too.”


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