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MBUSD Approves Security Cameras As Community Expresses Outrage Over Hate Acts

Sep 15, 2022 11:34AM ● By Jeanne Fratello
On Wednesday night the Manhattan Beach Unified School District approved funding for a security camera system for the middle school and high school, while community members expressed outrage over new acts of anti-Semitic hate at Mira Costa.

The latest anti-Semitic graffiti at Mira Costa was discovered on Monday morning and was quickly cleaned up. But the recurring incidents have roiled community members, who are seeking answers about why these events keep happening. 

"Anti-Semitism and hate acts have no place in our community or on our campuses," MBUSD Superintendent John Bowes told the assembled crowd at the meeting, adding that he was "deeply troubled" by the incidents.

The board gave approval to install security camera systems at Mira Costa High School and Manhattan Beach Middle School.

According to the district, the systems would cost $128,586 for MBMS and $254,668 for Mira Costa, for a total cost of $383,254. Of that amount, the city of Manhattan Beach will contribute $250,000 from its Capital Improvement Program fund. The remaining $133,254 will be paid out of the district's general fund using dollars budgeted for infrastructure projects.

Manhattan Beach City Councilmember Hildy Stern appeared at the meeting and said that she also spoke on behalf of Mayor Steve Napolitano. "We are united in denouncing these hurtful and hateful acts of anti-Semitism," she said. "We continue to be partners with you to improve the safety of our campuses."

The board also approved a donation agreement with the Robinson Elementary PTSA to donate funds for a security camera system. All five of the MBUSD elementary schools will now have camera systems that have been funded by the elementary school PTAs.

Community Speaks Out

Wednesday night's meeting was dominated by more than two hours' worth of public comment, the majority of which was to express outrage about the graffiti incident. 

The board heard emotional comments from a Holocaust survivor and others with family members who were murdered during the Holocaust; as well as many Jewish and non-Jewish community members.

Several commenters noted that the incidents could have enrollment consequences if parents felt that their students would not be safe at school. Rabbi Selilah Kalev, director of the Shalem Preschool, said that parents of her students were watching and were "terrified" at the thought of sending students to Mira Costa.

"Keep in mind that there is a community beyond the school that needs to hear that their community is going to be safe," Kalev told the board.

Commenters challenged the district to do a better job of teaching tolerance earlier, and questioned why cameras had not already been installed at the middle and high school.

Board members noted that the installation of cameras was not intended to be a "one-and-done" solution to the problem, and that further, more comprehensive actions were warranted. 

"We need to use this as a school district to make this a teaching moment," said MBUSD board member Jennifer Cochran. She added that the Manhattan Beach schools need to do a more thorough job of educating students about history, possibly re-institute a middle school field trip to the Museum of Tolerance, and become better at teaching empathy and inclusion.

"But bigger forces are at work," Cochran added. "We have to have serious discussions as a community. We have to talk about our shared values. We have to figure out where kids are getting this...I hope this is a call to action. I hope we can motivate the way we have in the past in this community."

"I don’t believe that there's anyone on this board that doesn’t care deeply about these issues," said MBUSD Board President Sally Peel. "We will not rest until we can provide the best education we can...But the school district can’t handle this alone."

Peel called upon other community organizations such as faith-based groups, sports teams, and nonprofits to join in the effort to eradicate hate.

Janet Allen, the school psychologist at Mira Costa, noted that more than 50 Mira Costa students had mobilized since Monday to start a "Campus Positivity Campaign" that would seek to eliminate hateful acts and messages. 

Instagram Confrontation

At Wednesday's meeting, the board also adopted a Governance Handbook containing board policies and procedures that it has been developing since January. The intent of the handbook is to formalize agreed-upon rules, and to provide a roadmap for future board members. (There are three open seats on the school board in November, with the terms expiring for board members Cochran, Peel, and Jen Fenton. Only Fenton is running again.)

The discussion opened the door for board members to speak with fellow board member Jason Boxer, who has come under fire in the community for their Instagram feed (Boxer identifies with they/them pronouns). Boxer had shared pro-Palestinian items that community members read as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, as well as opinions about how sex education should be taught in the schools. However, their Instagram handle had "MBUSD" in its name at the time. 

"Using MBUSD in your Instagram handle implies that you speak on behalf of the district," Peel told Boxer. "It would helpful if you would take MBUSD off your Instagram handle, or if you create a separate Instagram account where you speak about political activism that does not have to do with the district."

Peel continued, "I feel like if you or me, or any other member wants to post things on Instagram that are not previously discussed with the board, we should be able to do that with an account that doesn’t say MBUSD on it...I know [posting on Instagram] is important to you, but I think you need to do it in a way that’s not affiliated with MBUSD so you don’t have parents concerned or panicking about what’s going to happen."

Boxer apologized for the "disaster" they said they had created "with the people up here and the people out there."

"The wide-reaching impact of it has really sunk in for me. I support the handbook and I want to be part of the team, and I want to advocate alongside you for the best interest of our community and our students," Boxer said.

Boxer has since changed their Instagram handle to remove "MBUSD" from the name.

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