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Hundreds of Forest Hills students walk out to protest board scrapping Diversity Day

Published: May. 18, 2022 at 6:52 AM EDT|Updated: May. 18, 2022 at 11:43 AM EDT
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ANDERSON TOWNSHIP, Ohio (WXIX) - The Forest Hills Schools Board of Education met Wednesday night amid student protests surrounding the board’s recent decision to scrap Turpin High School’s annual Racial Diversity Awareness Day.

Hundreds of students in the district held a walkout Wednesday. About 350 of the district’s 1,150 students participated, according to Natalie Hastings, who is with the public relations company Limelight.

The school board initially postponed its Diversity Day from March 31 to Wednesday so parents could receive the agenda, lineup of speakers and sign permission slips for their children to attend. Then the board indefinitely postponed it by stipulating the event could not use school resources or occur during school hours.

Wednesday was the board’s last meeting before the end of the school year. The meeting room was at capacity and some people were sent to an overflow room. Diversity Day was not officially on the meeting agenda.

Those who spoke during public comment unanimously supported reinstating Diversity Day.

Said one student, “We’re tired of crying for help. We’re trying of crying, asking for those who are supposed to care about us to just listen.”

Outgoing Superintendent Scot Prebles praised the students from Anderson and Turpin high schools for conducting themselves peacefully.

“Your actions served as a positive example to me of how our great system of democracy offers opportunity to share one’s perspective, express ideas and opinions and how to exercise one’s constitutionally guaranteed right to assemble peacefully,” Prebles said. “I am inspired by your thoughtful and respectful approach, and I thank you students for the way you handled today.”

Board Member Leslie Rasmussen is the only board member in favor of Diversity Day. She says her counterparts acted to remove it suddenly and without notice.

On Wednesday, Rasmussen praised the student protesters in the meeting for their “poise, maturity and kindness.” Speaking to them directly, she said, “You are the example we should follow.”

Rasmussen continued, “This is a time when many of you should be planning for graduation and enjoying the last few weeks together before you go off into the world. Instead you’ve mobilized and inspired so many in this community and across the country. You deserve to be seen, acknowledged and heard.”

Racial Diversity Awareness Day has been held on a voluntary basis every year since at least 2017. There’s typically 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 Diversity Day event was scheduled to include guest speakers from the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Back2Back Ministries Cincinnati and Cincinnati’s Citizen Complaint Authority.

The event schedule was to include participation segments such as “Step to the Line” which asks students anonymously to answer 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?

Some parents complained about taxpayer dollars supporting curricula related to critical race theory.

Four of the newly elected members of the Forest Hills School Board ran on platforms opposing CRT last November.

The district issued the following statement to FOX19 NOW prior to the student walkout:

“Forest Hills School District is aware of potential demonstrations being planned by students during the school day on May 18. The district recognizes and respects the rights of its students to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed rights to assemble peaceably and to express ideas and opinions. The first priority for FHSD, at all times, is to provide a safe and secure learning environment for every student and we will continue with our commitment to maintain a high level of safety for students while on campus.”

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