After hearing reports of racial harassment among students, the Greencastle School Board has agreed to pursue a human relations committee as a possible way to handle what many parents says is an ongoing problem in the school system.
"I am frustrated with racial slurs that have been made toward my child in the middle school," Charlene Shrewsbury told board members Mark Kannowski, Barry Fisher, Mike Dean, Barbara Bryan and Jack Berry at their regular monthly meeting Wednesday.
Three racists comments made on three different occasions by three different students were recounted by Shrewsbury. But on the third occasion, she said, which occurred in January on a school bus during a field trip, her child got into a physical altercation because of the things said to him.
She agreed that her child needed to be punished because it is wrong to fight, but the child who provoked her son was not punished.
"The child who made the racist remark did not get the same punishment, and that is frustrating." Shrewsbury said.
She also noted that while her son had to serve in-school suspension, he was not given lunch on the first day. And while her son was not allowed to attend wrestling practice, he watched as the child who had uttered the slur went to wrestling practice and was allowed to participate.
Other parents also shared incidents that had happened to their children at school.
Beth Newton Watson said her middle school daughter has also recently walked away from racist remarks.
Mary Brown said her children have experienced it as well.
"I think we need to try to find out what is going on and why we are tolerating it," Brown said.
Rajai Bimbo, president of the Greencastle Branch of NAACP, said he feels the school board should have a zero tolerance policy on racial harassment.
Kelsey Kauffman urged the board to make it clear that using a racial slur equates to physical violence.
Anthony Brown explained to the board that a minority student will feel the pain of a racial slur differently that white people.
"You've got to realize that by calling me that, you've cut me to the core," Brown said. The pain can be felt for real, the same as if it is an actual slap to the face. "So for a child, the physical response is natural."
Supt. Bob Green told the 40-plus members of the audience he agreed with their stands on the issue. He said since he came to Greencastle in 2002, he has tried to promoted reading groups and diversity training for the staff.
"I think any of the principals can tell you how upset I've been when these issues have come to my attention," he said. "There is no tolerance for this in the Greencastle schools. That is the bottom line."
He asked for community participation to help find a solution. One suggestion has been a human relations committee, which Wayne Township Schools at Indianapolis has implemented.
Ann Newton asked Green if there are consequences for students who racial harass others.
"There are consequences and we try to make sure they are evenhanded," Green said. "One of the charges I've given the principals is before we hand down any discipline is let's make sure it is handed down fairly."
But Newton said the children who are victimized may not feel they have an advocate who will help them through the situation.
Green agreed that children need to be told how to respond to such incidents.
As for the zero tolerance policy mentioned by Bimbo, parent Brett O'Bannon said he thinks many people are looking for decision action on this issue, and that the school board is taking the issue seriously.
"If you have a zero tolerance policy for drugs and weapons, you're sending signals that those things matter to you," O'Bannon said. "You're being asked to do the same thing about this question, and your choice will indicate how seriously you're taking this matter."
Many others also asked the board to be pro-active, suggested parent workshops, to give students models of diversity by hiring minority staff and administrators, and to have ongoing training to recognize subtle racism.
Lucy Wieland, an educator and advocate for disabled children, said she would also like to see a human relations committee address the slurs against the disabled students, those of different sexual orientation, and gender discrimination.
A testimony from the front lines at the high school came from senior Tyler Wade, who told the board that he knows that racist things happen every day at school.
"I know the people who come forward are made to be the bad guy by both the students and the adults," Wade said.
Many students will not come forward, he said, because they feel nothing will be done about it.
Board members commended Shrewsbury for coming forward with the issue, and said they were concerned that more parents do not bring such issues to them.
Shrewsbury said she did not report the first incident, and only learned of the second incident against her child, in which a boy pulled up a white hoodie and claimed to be in the Ku Klux Klan white supremacy group, when she found out that her child had punched another child for using a racist slur against him on the bus.
Getting parents to report such incidents can be made harder by the fact that their own children may not report it to them when it happens.
The board agreed to revisit this issue at its March meeting, set for Wednesday, March 12, giving Supt. Green time to look into establishing a human relations committee and how it operates.
"I think dialog is the best solution to any problem," board president Dean said, "and I agree there is a problem. We need to put our heads together and come to a conclusion on what to do. I think we need to act upon this."
The school board regularly meets on the second Wednesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. in the Miller Education Center, 522 Anderson St. Meetings are open to the public.