New Albany's June 10 virtual town hall designed to look at present, future to improve inclusion

Gary Seman Jr.
ThisWeek group

The city of New Albany and neighborhood leaders are holding a virtual town hall to discuss diversity and inclusion issues in the community.

Registration at Eventbrite is required to participate in the town hall, slated for 7 p.m. June 10.

Charm London is president and co-founder of Setting Objectives Achieving Results – African American Parent Network, or SOAR-APN.

“I don’t think we’ve had a dialogue on inclusion like this,” said Charm London, president and co-founder of Setting Objectives Achieving Results – African American Parent Network, or SOAR-APN, who will welcome participants.

London, whose group was formed three years ago, said nationwide events, such as the murder of George Floyd and COVID-19, plus some recent graffiti tags – later confirmed to be racially motivated – and alleged bomb threat at New Albany High School were the impetus for the meeting.

She said the forum will be nonpolitical and not intended to stoke hostilities.

“We’re just having an honest, open dialogue where people can talk to the leadership,” she said.

Benjamin Reid, manager of the New Albany Branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, will facilitate the discussion.

The evening’s panelists include Mayor Sloan Spalding; Marlene Brisk, a member of New Albany City Council and representative of the Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Advisory Committee; police Chief Greg Jones; New Albany-Plain Local School District board President John McClelland; Everett Gallagher, chairman of the New Albany Community Foundation board of trustees; and Cherie Nelson, executive director of the New Albany Chamber of Commerce.

They will answer questions submitted by the public.

New Albany-Plain Local spokesman Patrick Gallaway said Ken Kraemer, principal of New Albany High School, sent a letter after the April 22 graffiti incident in which “inappropriate, threatening comments” were made.

The second incident April 27 included additional “threatening graffiti” tags in bathroom stalls at the high school, some of which was interpreted as a bomb threat. Kraemer also addressed that occurrence, saying the police department was involved and more officers and school administrators would be temporarily be on campus.

Jon Hood, director of student services, safety and security, acknowledged April 28 that some of the graffiti was racist and there was a specific threat, which some interpreted as a bomb threat, made for that day.

Another communication sent out April 28, signed by 10 district administration officials, including Kraemer, said the matter had been investigated and several students had been identified and were given their rights to due process. The district refused to name the students because of privacy issues, according to the statement.

That morning, district officials also were made aware of additional threats made by two middle school students and a high school student, which were immediately addressed.

In a follow-up letter April 29, Superintendent Michael Sawyers said the district’s communications efforts “missed the mark.”

London said that on the day the threat was made public, “the education, the community entirely stopped.”

She said the purpose of the town hall is not to dwell on the past incidents but to look at the present and future to improve inclusion.

Gallaway added that diversity, equity and inclusion committees were formed in each of the schools, with one larger umbrella group, last October and have been meeting regularly since then.

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekGary