A Massachusetts middle school hosted racially segregated “safe spaces” for students to discuss the verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial last week.
The principal at Bigelow Middle School in Newton, Mass., sent a letter to students outlining a choice between staying in their regularly-scheduled advisory lesson or electing to join one of three “safe spaces” to discuss Rittenhouse being found not guilty on all charges after shooting three people, killing two, during the riots in Kenosha, Wis., last August.
“On November 19th, the world learned that Kyle Rittenhouse, on trial for killing two people during a Black Lives Matters protest in Wisconsin last year, was found not guilty,” the letter begins. “Then we learned on Thanksgiving Eve that three men (Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and William Bryan) were found guilty of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old unarmed Black man in Georgia last year.”
“These are both sensitive topics with many layers of political, racial, and social concerns,” principal Chassity Coston wrote in the letter obtained by Parents Defending Education. “Regardless of those concerns, the Kyle Rittenhouse conclusion will likely be seen as yet another unfair reality for many Bigelow families, staff, and students—particularly our community members of color, while the Ahmaud Arbery conclusion may be seen as a glimpse of hope and justice. Bigelow has a responsibility to address the impact of both situations, and to make sure that you as students are educated on real-world topics to prepare you for life after Bigelow.”
The principal goes on to say that while some students may know about the cases, their verdicts and how they affect society, others may not be aware of them.
“As a learning community and place where you all should feel safe and heard, Bigelow is prepared to answer questions and has created safe spaces for those who need to process and express their feelings,” the letter adds.
The December 1 letter says students would watch a video message about the situations and their potential impact on the community the next day.
After watching the video, students would be asked to chose between remaining in advisory for a lesson unrelated to the cases or to join one of three safe spaces: “Reactions to verdicts: Hearing and learning from peers,” “Rumor Control Room: Facts presented in cases, today’s laws, and final verdicts,” and “Questions & Discussion for Students of Color.”
The letter suggests students who know “a good amount of what happened” and are “ready to talk about how this affects you/our community” attend the first group discussion, while those who want to learn more should choose the second. The final group is for students to “come together with other Bigelow students of color to process and get answers to any questions you have regarding these two cases.”
The principal included the letter to students in an email to parents, suggesting that parents talk with their children about their potential safe space choice.
Rittenhouse was arrested in August 2020 after shooting three people at a riot in the wake of the police killing of Jacob Blake, a black man who was brandishing a knife and in the process of violating a restraining order when police arrived on scene. Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time of the shootings, was initially indicted on charges of first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, attempted first-degree intentional reckless homicide, failure to comply with an emergency order from a local government, and possession of a dangerous weapon.
Rittenhouse’s acquittal came after a trial in which prosecutors sought to portray him as a “wannabe soldier” who went to Kenosha looking for trouble, while the defense argued that he came to Kenosha to protect property and acted in self-defense after being attacked by the three men he ultimately shot.