April 20, 2015; Cincinnati Enquirer
A nonprofit is joining a coalition of parents and other community members in Lebanon, Ohio, in urging the school district to enact anti-racism training for staff and better the civil rights programs in schools. Members of the Martin Luther King Community Coalition of Lebanon, which is part of the Cincinnati metro area, have offered to assist the community in implementing proposed training and improving existing bullying programs for students and staff.
The proposals appear to be a response to a complaint lodged by a local parent of biracial children with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights against school district administrators for allegedly ignoring concerns about minority children experiencing racial discrimination and harassment.
In the complaint, Heather Allen contends that school administrators ignored nine separate times when she contacted officials about racial harassment of her children, a boy in high school and a girl in middle school. In several of the allegations, her children were threatened she says in what were racially charged incidents. One student in high school claimed responsibility for writing the “n-word” on a bathroom stall, directing it at her son. In another incident, a student said a racial slur to her daughter. In all nine incidents, Allen says the response from officials was either denial that the incident took place or a lack of action.
“No parent should fear for the safety of their child in Lebanon City Schools,” said Renee Forrester, a Lebanon graduate whose children attended Lebanon High School. “Silence gives the appearance that this type of behavior is acceptable as long as the target is a child of color.”
According to Karen Schaeffer, pastor of Bethel AME Church in Lebanon, the proposals seek not only to build on current policies the district has concerning harassment and bullying, but also to construct policies in an area that appears to be lacking: racial issues.
Currently, the school district already has several programs in place in the six schools in the district, including the middle school and high school. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, among the programs that have been offered for the middle school are:
- “REDO day, a daylong program for all 8th grade students including team-building exercises focused on positive school culture, empathy for others and interpersonal relationships.”
- “Triple-screen video shown August 28th to students focused on the topics of anti-bullying, relationships, tolerance and diversity.”
Similarly, for the high school, the district has implemented in the past:
- “Freshmen Focus, a two-day program focused on anti-bullying, respect and creating an inclusive environment”
- “Three school assemblies in the past two years hosted by Eric Ellis, a management consultant who helps schools and businesses address issues of diversity.”
However, according to Schaeffer and others part of the coalition, the policies do not adequately address issues of race.
“They’re doing a great job of addressing issues, but addressing racism? I don’t know,” said Schaeffer. “They talked about bullying and said something about diversity, but didn’t really explain how they’re going about it.”
The school board president, Donna Davis-Norris, indicated officials were investigating the allegations, and also that administrators would respond promptly to any allegations of racism or bullying toward other students.
“I am confident that the evidence will reveal that our administration responded appropriately when it was notified of possible misconduct,” said Davis-Norris. “The board believes that the actions of a few misguided individuals are not in any way indicative of the good character and morals of our overall student body.”
Of course, Ohio, like many parts of the country, is no stranger to issues of race. Last year, the Cleveland police department was part of one of several controversial cases spotlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement, connected to the unnecessary death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, it may take up to 180 days before the agency can decide whether an investigation should move forward into the particular incidents.—Shafaq Hasan