Springboro parents group raises concerns about racism

Sad and disheartening stories from Springboro students of color who have endured racist comments and actions were shared in a public meeting Tuesday night as a parents group asked Springboro school district leadership for help as they seek change for their children.

Nearly 50 people, students, parents, school board members and district administrators attended a meeting of Parents Empowering All Children of Color (PEACOC) meeting at the Springboro United Church of Christ for a conversation on responding to racism in the school district.

Angela Brown, PEACOC secretary, said parents with children of color began meeting last June and formed the group, organized for mutual support and to put an end to the racial threats, slurs, and intimidation faced by children of color in the Springboro district.

“What we found, over the past nine months of meeting is that what we thought were isolated incidents involving our children, were in fact not isolated incidents, but rather a disturbing pattern of violent, racist acts that were being inflicted upon our children in what should be a safe space to learn and grow,” she said.

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Brown said they saw their children becoming more withdrawn in some cases, acting out in others and realized that it was critically important to give their children a voice by empowering them to tell their stories, share their truth but ask for help and asked the school leadership for change.

One of the experiences shared Tuesday night was from a girl that has been in the school district for six years but is now attending an online school. She said she had encountered many racial threats and incidents. She said one painful incident was when she was in a fifth-grade homeroom class when the students had extra free time before the bell. She was playing UNO with some of her classmates. A group of classmates on the other side of the room were laughing out loud. Her friend said to look over at the other group, which let out a roar of laughter because one of her peers covered her face in black slime and said she now looked like her.

“I remember that like it was yesterday I immediately burst into tears with an overwhelming amount of confusion, anger, and sadness. My good friend immediately brought my teacher in and since I could not talk she talked for me and a long story short I do applaud my teacher for handling the situation and bringing her out and calling hers and my parents,” the girl said.

A boy told his mother about an incident that happened to him at school. When the mother asked why he did not say something to teachers or the principal, he said, “[T]he reason I don’t usually talk to people when I get called (an expletive) is that I figured they wouldn’t do anything about it.”

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The Rev. Tracy Paschke-Johannes, one of the meeting facilitators, said the group understood no official school board action could take place at Tuesday’s meeting. She said the group was seeking the following actions from the school board by April 15:

  • Making a policy banning the Confederate (battle) flag and other symbols of racism public, through written communication to teachers, students, parents, and stakeholders.
  • Making public, through written communication to teachers, students, parents, and stakeholders, the steps taken and consequences applied when racist incidents occur, according to school district policy.
  • Deliver to teachers, students, parents, and stakeholders a written statement from the school board and superintendent that the racism and hate that is prevalent to our school community is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.
  • Requested an update by April 15 about training professional staff-level liaison, first in the junior high and high school, then all buildings, to advocate and mediate for children of color when an incident of racism occurs in the schools.

School Board President Dan Gudz thanked the four students who shared their experiences, saying that it took courage to do that.

“I was disheartened as a parent to hear this,” he said. “It’s an awful feeling to have. As a board member, I am confident we will take this as an opportunity to improve.”

Gudz said the district has formed a Diversity & Inclusion Committee that includes members of PEACOC, board members, teachers, principals, administrators, parents and stakeholders. He also told the audience the district has a policy against bullying, aggressive behavior, etc. However, state law prohibits the district from sharing disciplinary outcomes for students.

“When we know about it, action will be taken. There is a process,” Superintendent Larry Hook said.

Paschke-Johannes said it’s a joke to the kids because the policies are not known. She said kids are being victimized and nothing isn’t being done about it.

Last June, the school board issued a statement that read in part, “Springboro Schools stands in solidarity with the fight against racial injustice. We do not condone racism or violence. With a long-standing Board of Education policy on equity and non-discrimination, as well as diversity training programs centered around cultural competency, Springboro Schools is committed to promoting a culture of respect, tolerance, and inclusion for all people.”

The district’s 19-member Diversity & Inclusion Committee was scheduled to meet Wednesday with a facilitator from the University of Dayton.

Hook said Wednesday the board is aware and every child is valuable to the district.

“Every school district needs to self-reflect as respect and dignity are key cornerstones,” he said.

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