A new organization called the Black Students of Olentangy will hold an informational meeting Tuesday, Sept. 4, in response to racial incidents in the high schools.
Several black students addressed the school board March 1, telling members about racial comments, jokes, jeers and epithets they said they endure from other students.
While board President Mindy Patrick said at the time she was troubled by the students' experiences, she was not sure their suggestion of changing the student handbook to require punishments for reports of racial bullying or harassment was the right move.
She said reports of bullying often result in "he-said, she-said" situations that can be difficult for district administrators to adjudicate.
Liberty High School student Jade Davis was among those who spoke to the board and helped to organize the Black Students of Olentangy, along with Orange High School student Mia Lapointe.
Davis said the board meeting triggered the group's formation.
While racial incidents often are witnessed by others and are more than "he-said, she-said," Davis said, the students figured the board would not know how to handle the issue.
In May, the board approved adjustments to district handbooks to more clearly define what constitutes intimidation, bullying, sexual harassment and hazing.
The handbooks now state such actions and comments will result in a suspension from school, as opposed to the previous wording of "may result."
But board members want to think of Olentangy as "a perfect district," Davis said, and seemed uncomfortable when confronted with the problem.
The students knew, she said, the public would read articles about the meeting, creating an outreach that would encourage the community, parents and students to "stand behind us."
The Black Students of Olentangy identifies itself as "a black community where students can be free to express."
The Sept. 4 meeting is open to everyone, Davis said, particularly parents and students, and will begin at 6 p.m. at the Second Ward Community Initiative center at 50 Ross St. in Delaware.
She said she would tell parents to "teach their kids not to be afraid to reach out to others ... and have an open mind themselves. .... If their kid is going through something right now, stand by their side. They hurt. Encourage your student to keep speaking up about what happens to them, and don't be afraid to keep going."
In elementary school, Davis said, black students often hear other children make fun of their appearance. In middle school, the remarks become more direct, she said, with students beginning to acknowledge racial differences.
In high school, said said, she has received racial slurs in anonymous text messages, heard jokes about black people and heard racial slurs used when others "forgot I was there."
So far this year, Davis said, she has experienced no such incidents at Liberty. She said Liberty has 45 to 50 black students out of an enrollment of about 2,000.
The group is discussing future activities, Davis said, such as a black cultural festival at a venue off school property.
The high schools have a number of different spirit weeks, she said, and the black students would like to have a "Happy to Be Me" version. Another idea is an event in the auxiliary gym during lunch hour -- another typical Liberty High School activity and something that would require authorization by the school staff.
A number of teachers said, "We're proud of you," after the students spoke to the school board, Davis said.
Kristyn Wilson, OIentangy assistant communications director, said the Black Students of Olentangy is not a school-sanctioned club, but the issues are "a topic important to all of us."
The district has a curriculum supervisor of equity and inclusion, Jacqueline Powers, and a staff committee is scheduled to present a diversity plan to the school board Sept. 6, Wilson said.
The Second Ward Community Initiative center in Delaware was founded by Shirley Hart, who called Davis "an outstanding student. ... A very smart young lady."
Hart said the center is a nonprofit connected to all of Delaware's Second Ward on the southwest side of the city. It hosts a variety of activities and classes, as well as meals for Sourcepoint, which provides programs and services for those over age 55. SWCI has been a United Way grant recipient.
The Black Students of Olentangy can be found on social media at facebook.com/olentangyblackstudents, instagram.com/blackstudents.olsd and twitter.com/blackolentangy.