‘Our kids have to grow up in this culture.’ Forest Hills postpones Diversity Day again

Forest Hills School District's board of education voted Sunday to not allow Turpin High...
Forest Hills School District's board of education voted Sunday to not allow Turpin High School's Diversity Day to occur during the school day or with taxpayer resources.(The Enquirer/Amanda Rossmann)
Published: May. 1, 2022 at 6:36 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (Cincinnati Enquirer) - The Forest Hills School District board of education voted to ban Turpin High School’s Diversity Day from occurring during school hours or through school or taxpayer resources during a special meeting Sunday afternoon.

The voluntary event was originally scheduled for early April but postponed on short notice to allow for further “parent review,” district officials said. After some adjustments, administrators announced last week that the event would be rescheduled for May 18.

Turpin, located in Anderson Township, serves more than 1,000 students in the Forest Hills School District. According to U.S. News & World Report, more than 90% of Turpin students are white.

Sunday’s motion to postpone Diversity Day again, made by newly elected board member Bob Bibb, passed 4-0. Board member Leslie Rasmussen abstained from voting.

During the meeting, Rasmussen said the board’s previous postponement for Diversity Day was made because other board members said they were concerned about the “process” by which the event was formed. The event has been held for more than five years at the suburban Cincinnati high school.

“You all lied,” Rasmussen said during the meeting. It wasn’t a matter of “process,” she said, but content.

Diversity Day is ‘political and indoctrination’

Racial Diversity Awareness Day at Turpin traditionally includes a series of activities, discussions, video clips and breakout sessions with guest speakers that focus on history, the criminal justice system and empathy, according to the event’s permission slip.

This year the event was scheduled to included guest speakers from the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Back2Back Ministries Cincinnati and Cincinnati’s Citizen Complaint Authority.

School board president Linda Hausfeld read from parent emails during Sunday’s board meeting. Community members were upset about Diversity Day, she said, because some teachers were offering students extra credit for attendance. Others wrote they did not want taxpayer dollars to support curriculums related to critical race theory, which four of the newly elected board members ran against in November.

“Voters made it very clear in the November election that we do not want to fund social justice and political programming that is inherently divisive,” Hausfeld read from one community member’s message.

Another letter, which Hausfeld said came from a Black parent in the school district, reads: “Maybe their hearts are in the right place, and I respect that, but the implementation is completely off-base, biased and offensive.

“If my multicultural children were eligible for this event, I would opt out,” Hausfeld read from the parent’s email.

One of the activities planned for Diversity Day, entitled Step to the Line, included asking students to answer anonymously to questions such as:

  • Have you ever been embarrassed or ashamed of your clothes, your house, or your family when growing up?
  • Was your grade school made up of people you felt were like yourself?
  • When you go to the doctor, is the doctor the same race as you?
  • Have you ever felt uncomfortable or angry about a remark or joke because of your race, ethnicity, age or class?

“To me, I don’t understand how this is the business of students, staff or leaders in this exercise,” board member Sara Jonas said. “How is this not political and indoctrination to the students?”

Katie Stewart, another new board member, said she called Sunday’s meeting because she wanted to discuss a way to include Anderson High School students in Diversity Day. She suggested having the event after school or over the weekend.

“It is May,” superintendent Scot Prebles said.

At this point, he said, it might be difficult for the high schools to come together to plan an event that works with both of their schedules before the end of the school year.

According to the district calendar, Forest Hills students’ last day is May 27.

Superintendent ‘let all of us down today’

After the meeting, Forest Hills parent Jessica Cunningham was emotional. Her oldest child is in sixth grade, she said, and will go to Turpin High School eventually.

Cunningham said she was “very disappointed” with superintendent Prebles during Sunday’s meeting. Prebles is leaving the district for another superintendent position in the Cleveland area next school year.

“I feel like he let all of us down today,” she said. “And I have seen him fight. I have seen him try so hard and to see him, like(...) back down like this. He’s leaving. He doesn’t care.”

“But we’re staying and our kids are staying and our kids have to grow up in this culture,” another parent, Lindy DeMaria, said.

DeMaria said her children will funnel into Turpin High School. She’s also an educator at Archbishop Moeller High School.

Once these kind of events go away or are limited, DeMaria said, they are difficult to bring back. She also said switching the event to an after-school or weekend activity will limit its reach. Some kids work, have extracurriculars or can’t get transportation, she said.

“Diversity is not a controversial word,” DeMaria said. “And learning about somebody else’s experience is not controversial.”

The motion passed by the board Sunday states Turpin’s Diversity Day “shall not proceed during school hours” and “shall not be conducted or further organized during school hours or through the use of school or taxpayer resources.” It is unclear if the event will be rescheduled for another time outside of the school day.

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