A group of black high school students has asked Olentangy Local School District officials to do more to combat racial harassment in the district’s schools.
Members of the Olentangy school board March 1 listened to students from Liberty, Olentangy and Orange high schools who came forward to discuss their experiences with racism in district buildings.
Michael Carter, a senior at Olentangy High School, said he "(does) not feel safe in my own school" because racist jokes and jeers are traded freely. Carter was one of six students who spoke before the board.
"I turn the corner every period and I hear jokes about black hair, black women, black athletes, black celebrities and black politicians," he said. "I hear this so often throughout my day that I’ve almost come to a place where I felt numb to these issues."
Carter said he also hears racial epithets "loosely tossed around every day" in school.
Jade Davis, a sophomore at Olentangy Liberty High School, said she has been driven to tears by racist comments from classmates.
"Me and my fellow black students are sick and tired of being sick and tired," she said. "What we are facing in your school district is not a problem of diversity and inclusion. It's an issue of racism."
Ziyan Sears, a senior at Olentangy High School, said he and his peers went to the board because they feel their concerns are not being addressed effectively in the high schools.
"Your students go to school every day expecting racial aggression," he said.
Olentangy’s 2017-18 High School Student Handbook states the district prohibits discrimination, which can take the form of "harassment, intimidation or bullying." The handbook states students who break the prohibition will be subject to "potential penalties."
Sears said he does not think that language is strong enough.
"I confidently say in front of you today this prohibition on discrimination is not effective," he said. "I implore you, I ask you to make a change we can actually see."
Multiple students asked for language regarding "potential penalties" to be changed to something more-concrete in regards to discriminatory behavior.
Board President Mindy Patrick said she was troubled by the statements given by the students.
"It's heartbreaking to hear that this is their experience at our schools," she said.
Patrick said she was not sure the students' suggestion of changing the student handbook to require punishments for reports of racial bullying or harassment is 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.
"I think that's why there's a little bit of flexibility" in the policy, she said.
Patrick said she hopes students within the district and beyond think more about how their words might affect others in the future.
"I would like to see a culture change, not just in our district but everywhere," she said. "I would just like to see a more empathetic culture. Kids should never be afraid to go to school."