BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Although not listed on the Los Alamos Public Schools Board agenda for Thursday evening, Supt. Jose Delfin made a lengthy statement under “Superintendent’s Report” about an October 5 incident involving some members of the Los Alamos Middle School football team.
“As you are well aware the community of Los Alamos has recently had to deal with unfortunate derogatory and discriminatory language that a group of our middle school footballers stated about the Santa Fe Indian School football team on October 27. The words used were hurtful and not reflective or our district’s core values,” Delfin said Thursday. “Upon learning of these events the district promptly held additional NMAA player conduct training, restorative justice actions, forfeited our final game of the season, initiated an investigation to identify responsible students and is hoping to partner with the Pueblo de San Ildefonso on cultural sensitivity measures and opportunities for our students to grow and learn from this unfortunate incident.”
He said as a person of color himself, he has experienced firsthand the pain and disrespect of exclusion.
“Los Alamos Public Schools and I sincerely strive for a better and more equitable future for the generations that we educate. In that spirit, the district will continue to seek out and implement a range of tools for ensuring our educational environment is one of respect and inclusion,” Delfin said. “I also wanted to add that in my career this has been a topic that I have faced on a daily, weekly, monthly basis.”
He talked about starting his career in the Washington area right on the DC border where his students were 99 percent African-American, where he learned that respect and hearing student voices was very important and that it still is. He continued with recalling a situation when he was an assistant principal in Las Vegas, Nevada in the early 2000s when some three dozen students were walking out of the high school during a time when there were many ICE raids and deportation issues and hate speech. He described how he handled the situation by talking for three hours with the group of students in the school auditorium.
“It was one of the toughest days I’ve had as an administrator. So when this happened here in Los Alamos, it took me a second to regroup. Being new to this region too, I didn’t know the depth of the racial inequalities and the history that had cut so deep for our Native American students in our culture. Believe me, when I tell you that I know now what that means firsthand. And it does cut to my core values as a human being, as a person of color, as your superintendent,” he said. “It took me a while to respond because really first and foremost I want everyone to know that I’m always going to be student-centered first. I want to make sure that our kids at the middle school were taken care of. And in comparison to a school accident like in Taos where a student dies in a crash or when the Uvalde shooting happens and many students and staff die, I know now that I have to rally an emergency response team. I get that now.”
Delfin said he wanted to let people know that “students first” in this particular event meant that he needed to trust his administrative staff and the coach to be able to handle their business first to take care of the kids.
“And they did and they did it really well and I want everyone to know that – that the coach did the right thing when he heard those awful remarks he stopped it. He then, like I did, he got back up, he got his principal and assistant principal to come over and deal with the situation right away and swiftly. They proceeded to go ahead and forfeit the last game of the season. There weren’t many games to come – it was the last game. Whatever implication of play-offs or anything else moving forward, they forfeited as well, which wasn’t in the awful social media comments,” Delfin said. ”So based on that training we have to trust that our school leaders that we have hired to make these decisions on the spot while the rest of us are also dealing with student issues, to do what they need to do and conduct that investigation well. And they did an excellent job as all our administrators are trained to do.”
He continued, “That said, it doesn’t excuse the thoughtlessness of some of those players. They’re also minors. I’ve heard the same remarks from every color. It doesn’t matter. I’ve heard the same types of remarks from even my own race. None of them are acceptable for anyone to say. I’ve heard my own principals in the DC community about light-skinned and dark-skinned. It wasn’t right then, it’s not right now. So any of those remarks that exclude anyone, whether it’s their race, gender, national origin, religion – any of those things that marginalize people, is not anywhere close to acceptable.”
He said going forward from this situation the district will need help.
“We’ll harness the power of our school district but we cannot do it alone. We have to rely on our parents, our community partners, our Pueblo partners to continually do this education. It happened before I was born. Civil rights movements, Cesar Chavez, the rebellion against imperialism. It’s been happening for thousands of years – the Jews being enslaved. I won’t be the last superintendent to face this. I won’t be the first, but while I’m in charge, it will be students first and adult drama last.” Delfin said. “And I really am ticked off by some of this commentary without really knowing all the facts and you know what folks, I can’t tell you all the facts sometimes because we’ve got to do our job for the kids and a lot of that is confidential because they are minors, they’re not adults saying these things.So with that, I count on you Los Alamos to help me be an effective community that includes everybody. No matter how much they may disagree with me or don’t like what I have to say or wear or do. Just know that I’m in it for the kids. Certainly I’m not in it for anything else other than being a good educator and a good human being for our school district.”
There were no comments from school board members except from Board President Melanie Colgan who thanked Delfin for “those very heartfelt remarks”. Board members went into closed session for a couple of hours at the end of the meeting for an agenda item that stated they would be discussing limited personnel matters and “personally identifiable student information, specifically recent student conduct incidents and the superintendents response to same”. When the board returned to regular session, Colgan read a statement indicating that the board did not take any action on the agenda item.