If the COVID-19 coronavirus has dominated headlines in 2020, racial justice – and attempts to achieve it – are close behind.

And Grandview Heights is no exception in seeking that justice.

A task force has begun meeting to plan a Year of Racial Justice Learning in 2021 in the city.

Grandview Heights City Council members on Aug. 3 unanimously approved a resolution declaring racism a public-health issue.

The resolution declares the designation for 2021 in Grandview and directs the city to plan a series of educational events about racial injustice and its impact on the history of Ohio and the Grandview community.

"We're at a critical moment in time where it's not only the right thing to do, but what we're required to do is to take a critical examination of ourselves and our communities," said councilwoman Melanie Houston, the primary sponsor of the resolution, which was co-sponsored by the other six council members.

At a time when race is at the forefront of conversations, the nation needs to examine its legacy of racism and how that legacy can be dismantled, she said.

Grandview officials are committed to reviewing the city's policies and procedures and considering whether adjustments can be made that serve to enhance inclusivity, diversity and equity in the community, Houston said.

Those would include a review of the city's policies regarding contracts and hiring to make sure a diverse pool of candidates is encouraged, she said.

The task force includes Houston and her council colleagues Ryan Edwards; Rebekah Hatzifotinos, who serves as council liaison to the Grandview Heights Public Library; and council President Emily Keeler, the liaison to Grandview Heights Schools.

Other members include school district Superintendent Andy Culp and chief academic officer Jamie Lusher; school board member Emily Gephart; Grandview Library director Ryan McDonnell; city board of health member Daniel Skinner; and Sarah Myers, one of the leaders of a local antiracism group.

The group was scheduled to hold its second meeting Aug. 26, Houston said.

The task force will seek to develop ideas for the 2021 Year of Racial Justice Learning, she said.

"Right now, we are looking at presenting a series of speakers with the library's and schools' participation and providing a set of educational resources, perhaps a syllabi, to help encourage discussion about these issues in the community," Houston said.

"The Year of Racial Justice Learning will be conducted in the public sphere," she said.

Community members are encouraged to provide their input on the issue and on the topics that should be addressed as part of next year's activities, Houston said.

Suggestions may be sent to Houston at mhouston@grandviewheights.org.

"One of the important things we want to try to do as a community is find ways to promote greater diversity in Grandview, both racially and socioeconomically," Houston said.

"We want to be part of the solution and we want to implement some action steps, as well," she said.

City staff will take part in training sessions relating to inclusivity, diversity and equity, Houston said.

The Grandview Division of Police has begun to present a monthly series of online training sessions for its staff, including police officers and nonuniformed employees, Chief Ryan Starns said.

"This was something that Mayor (Greta) Kearns and I talked about wanting to do when I was named chief (in March)," he said. "It was an initiative both the mayor and I had on our radar even before the council resolution came up."

Although Starns said he is proud of the police department's record regarding racial issues, the training is important to encourage self-reflection within the department and to prevent even unintended bias in the performance of law-enforcement duties.

The pandemic makes it impossible to hold in-person classes attended by all, so officers and nonuniformed personnel are participating in workshops offered online, Starns said. They can complete the courses on their own schedule but are expected to complete each month's workshop on time.

All personnel, including the civilian support team, have completed courses on implicit bias and antibias policing, he said.

Two officers are off-site attending crisis-intervention officer training, and two more will take the same course in September, Starns said.

"Once completed, 50% of our staff will be certified CIT officers," he said.

Other upcoming training sessions will focus on autism recognition and response, cultural diversity and awareness, civil rights, constitutional law, community policing and health and wellness for police.

"There's really no timeframe for when the training will be completed," Starns said.

"It's more of an ongoing initiative, and other topics and courses may be added as we go along."

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