Olentangy Valley News

Olentangy Local Schools

New efforts designed to combat racial prejudice

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Olentangy Local School District officials said new practices are rooting out racial prejudice in the district.

Diversity Consultant Rhonda Knight is heading a new task force working to square district policies with Title VI requirements enforced by the Office for Civil rights, a federal agency. She addressed the Olentangy school board at its Feb. 13 meeting.

Title VI prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin. School districts that fail to implement compliant policies can lose federal funds.

Olentangy's efforts include student surveys, teacher training and the creation of an educational video, she said.

"We now have teachers that want to talk about how to address this in the classroom, and we are also empowering students to become more responsible and know what to do in a situation if someone isn't beside them telling them what to do," Knight said.

A video is in production that will be viewed by all students in grades 6-12. It will illustrate how to spot and address issues of ethnic and racial discrimination, Knight said. After the video is shown, students will participate in classroom discussions on the topic.

"The study body will actually be charged with finding ways to eliminate those issues," Knight said.

Additionally, students and staff at Olentangy schools will participate in surveys to gauge general attitudes about the presence of discrimination or prejudice at their buildings. So far, Orange High School and Orange Middle School have completed the surveys.

Athletics coaches currently are completing training to increase sensitivity to issues of race and color, Knight said.

She said the district also seeks to crack down on prejudice expressed online through social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

In one recent incident, the district intervened to talk to a student who made offending remarks on a personal blog.

Knight added that in some circumstances, such as when threats are made, the district can work with law-enforcement officials to determine the identity of a person who posts anonymously online.

Currently, a volunteer task force is working on additional projects, and the implementation of current initiatives is being monitored by building principals, Knight said.

Board members Julie Wagner Feasel and Stacy Dunbar are members of the task force.

"There's been a lot of good participation from parents, community members, even teachers and staff members. It's a good group," Feasel said.

School board member Dave King suggested that in addition to the video, the district could employ its drama students to act out scenes that show how to deal with prejudice during an assembly.

"I saw it used before at the college-freshman level and I thought it was very interesting how it could demonstrate how an incident can escalate quickly," King said.

The Title VI initiatives are just part of the district's recent efforts to address issues of race and ethnicity. Last month, Olentangy Diversity Chairman Todd Corley told the board about efforts to raise awareness by training administrators and hosting a community forum.

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