All of Huntsville’s schools are deemed “No Place for Hate”

There are over 1500 schools in the country participating in the Anti-Defamation League’s “No Place for Hate” program. In just a few places, an entire school system participates.

Huntsville City Schools achieved that designation on May 8 during a ceremony at Lee High School, as all of the area’s 40 schools were recognized.

No Place for Hate is offered free to schools by the ADL. The initiative is designed to rally the entire school around the goal of stopping all forms of bias and bullying.

National ADL Chairman Barry Curtiss-Lusher of Denver, who flew in for the ceremony, said Huntsville is “a model for other school systems.”

He said “we wish all school districts would embrace it the way Huntsville has.”

To be designated as No Place for Hate, a school forms a committee to oversee anti-bias activities in the school, adopts and collectively signs the No Place for Hate Promise or the Resolution of Respect, does a minimum of three projects during the year that align with the mission of No Place for Hate, and submits an application to the regional ADL office.

About 200 schools in the Southeast region from Atlanta participate in the program. In the New Orleans region, the program is underwritten by the Entergy Charitable Foundation and is in numerous schools.

The widespread adoption of the program in Huntsville came after a Jewish high school student experienced cyber-bullying and threatening voicemails about three years ago. The family contacted Rabbi Elizabeth Bahar of Temple B’nai Sholom, who approached the principal at Huntsville High School.

Her second call, she said, was to Holli Levinson, education project director at ADL’s Atlanta office. They and a team that included non-Jewish clergy from the Interfaith Mission Service met with school officials.

Bahar said Donna Clark, counseling coordinator for the system, “was really wanting to do things and she was very open.”

Then when she found out that the deputy superintendent, Barbara Cooper, “had already done things with ADL, it made it so much easier.”

By late 2012, three schools — Grissom High, Westlawn Middle and Whitesburg P-8 — had achieved the No Place for Hate designation. The initiative was expanded to all middle and high schools by Spring 2013, and then all elementary schools were added for this school year.

Clark said the program is designed to “fight bullying, cyberbullying, intolerance and hate” with “positive behavior supports.”

She said the counselors in each school are “responsible for the success. I just told them to go out and do great things.”

Cooper said in her eight years of working with ADL, she has never seen an entire district recognized in the program. According to the national office, it is “a special accomplishment” but there have been a few districts across the country that have done so.

“We find that once No Place for Hate is successfully implemented in one or two schools in a district, administrators find great value in offering the anti-bias initiative district-wide, and challenging schools to achieve the designation,” according to the ADL.

Each school must fulfill the criteria to become No Place for Hate on its own, “but there is great unity and continuity when the work is being done across all grades and schools in a district.”

Curtiss-Lusher spoke about last year’s ADL centennial celebration, “Imagine A World Without Hate.” He addressed the students, “you each, in your own way, are imagining a world without hate.”

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle spoke of how Huntsville is building an inclusive community, which “does not have a place for hate.”

Kenny Anderson, the city’s director for multicultural affairs, also mentioned that Huntsville is now the only place in Alabama that has been recognized as a compassionate city by the International Campaign for Compassionate Cities. “We are doing great things in this city and we will keep doing great things if we continue to work together.”

As part of the celebration, representatives from each school came to the stage with their school’s No Place for Hate banner, and the city-wide banner was unfurled.

Another banner was presented to the Seminole Boys and Girls Club, which is also in the program. Rena Anderson, director of community engagement for the Huntsville City Schools, said “students who learned about the program took it to the Boys and Girls Club and said we want to do it here.”

Representatives from Weatherly Elementary and Grissom made presentations about their programs. Last November, four Grissom students spoke on “Mobilizing Students to Lead Bullying Prevention and Diversity Education Initiatives” at the International Bullying Prevention Association Conference in Nashville.