Six black students spoke before the Olentangy Local School District board March 1, starting a discussion about racial bullying and harassment in district schools.

The district's diversity committee will host a forum 6 p.m. April 4 at the Olentangy administrative offices, 7840 Graphics Way, Lewis Center, to make sure that conversation continues.

At the March 1 meeting, the six students who spoke told the board that racial jokes and taunts are common at Olentangy's three high schools.

Michael Carter, a senior at Olentangy High School, told board members he hears racial epithets "loosely tossed around every day," which makes him feel unsafe at school.

Jackie Powers, Olentangy's supervisor of equity and inclusion, said while the students' statements were "hard to hear," she was proud of them for speaking out at the meeting.

"It was a deeply powerful experience," she said. "They have truly learned what it means to advocate for themselves and others."

Powers said the board's leadership acted quickly by holding a meeting with the students and district administrators. She said feedback from the students and their parents focused on the how the district teaches students about different cultures and diversity, as well as Olentangy's policies regarding discrimination.

Students at the March 1 meeting asked the school board to revise Olentangy High School's student handbook to include stronger language to reinforce the prohibition on discriminatory "harassment, intimidation or bullying." The handbook states students who break the prohibition will be subject to "potential penalties" – language multiple students criticized as ineffective.

Powers said the district's administration has been reviewing Olentangy's policies related to discrimination for weeks to see if improvements are possible.

"This has been something that has been on the district's radar," she said.

Powers said she hopes the planned forum allows district officials to "continue the conversation with as many interested (parties) as possible." She said officials hope to collect feedback and suggestions, which could lead to action by the district.

Heather Cole, the district's diversity coordinator, said she hopes Olentangy officials are creating an environment in which students feel they can voice their concerns. She said district officials have worked on "increasing student voice and empowerment" in the past.

"I do think students are sensing that we are here to hear them," she said. "That's what we want."

The district has asked anyone who wishes to attend the April 4 public forum to register at tinyurl.com/OLSDdiversity.

tgallick@thisweeknews.com

@twgallick