More than 100 Olentangy Local School District parents and educators attended a forum last week to share the experiences of their children, and to discuss how the district can better address the inclusion of an increasingly diverse student population.
The April 4 event was in response to six black students who had spoken before the school board last month, detailing racial bullying and harassment in district schools.
The students said racial jokes and taunts are common at Olentangy's three high schools.
Forum attendees ranged from Olentangy staff looking for ways to better teach acceptance and inclusion to parents of minority children, including white families who have adopted children of different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds.
Participants were broken into small groups with a facilitator to share their experiences in the district and help prioritize needs.
Themes of climate and culture, hiring and recruiting staff of diverse backgrounds, and ensuring that all students are reflected in the district's curriculum were common.
Several parents said they hoped the district would make diversity and tolerance speakers a priority in the same way that other special speakers are used, such as police officers who teach drug-prevention classes.
They also said more support should be given to teachers who cover "hard history" lessons in the classroom, such as slavery, and be provided for parents who want to continue the discussion at home.
Several parents said more emphasis should be put on recruiting and retaining a diverse staff.
One man said he had two reasons to be concerned: he is the parent of a minority child and the spouse of a district employee.
The man -- whom the district asked ThisWeek Olentangy Valley News not to identify to preserve privacy and encourage openness -- said his wife has spent most of her teaching career as the only person of color in her building.
According to the district website, more than 2,000 people work for Olentangy schools across all areas of education -- administrative, certified and support staff. Only 86 self-identify as being racially diverse, said Devon Immelt, public information coordinator for the district.
The district started a diversity committee in 2010 that, among other efforts, has worked to increase the number of minority educators in classrooms.
The students who spoke before the board last month also asked members to revise Olentangy High School's student handbook to include stronger language regarding discrimination, harassment and bullying.
Those who attended the forum supported the idea.
The handbook has been on the district's radar and is under review, as are other policies related to discrimination, officials said.
The results of the forum will be compiled into a "focused list" of recommendations for Superintendent Mark Raiff, who will craft an action plan for the 2018-19 school year, Immelt said.
Jackie Powers, Olentangy's supervisor of equity and inclusion, said the forum was a way to continue the conversation started by "six brave students."
"This is an important conversation and we need the community's input," she said.
For more information on the district's diversity initiatives, visit www.olentangy.k12.oh.us/diversity.