Mason Schools’ leader warns community of ‘uptick’ in racist comments

Published: Thursday, January 11, 2018 @ 11:47 AM
Updated: Thursday, January 11, 2018 @ 7:07 PM


            Jerseys worn by Kings schools students playing on a recreational basketball team have drawn national attention for their racist nature. Tony Rue took photos of jerseys at a recreational league basketball game held Sunday at West Clermont Middle School. Photo courtesy of WCPO-TV
Jerseys worn by Kings schools students playing on a recreational basketball team have drawn national attention for their racist nature. Tony Rue took photos of jerseys at a recreational league basketball game held Sunday at West Clermont Middle School. Photo courtesy of WCPO-TV

UPDATED at 2 p.m.:

The leader of Mason Schools cites “uptick” of racist remarks in schools and community and warns they will not be tolerated.

Superintendent Gail Kist-Kline sent an email message Thursday to school parents in Warren County’s largest school system in the aftermath of a district teacher using an insensitive and historically deadly racial remark with an African-American student.

“We have seen an uptick in the number of racially and culturally insensitive comments in our schools and community,” wrote Kist-Kline.

“Sometimes these are said out of genuine ignorance. As a district, we want to be very clear, racial slurs or any behavior that discriminates against others are NOT(sic) acceptable.

“When adults act in a way that is not in line with our values, we lose trust. In our district we take corrective action to address these situations, but we need to do more. We will continue to invest in training and resources on culturally proficient practices for administrators, educators and classified staff members that lift up our district’s values. We must ensure that ALL(sic) Mason City Schools’ students are welcomed, valued and cared for while at school,” she wrote.

“Now is the time for us to be courageous and have explicit conversations about racism, sexism, and other discrimination that threaten our greatness. Everyone has the responsibility to act when we see issues in our schools and community.

We will continue to engage our community so that we are all working to enhance the climate in our schools. We are best when we bring out the best in each other. Let’s work together, hold each other accountable, and lift up our values,” said Kist-Kline.

INITIAL STORY:

They are neighboring Warren County school districts, share the same township and are among the top academic performers among all Southwest Ohio schools.

But this week finds officials at both Kings and Mason schools scrambling in the wake of incidents that involve race that have drawn national attention.

Kings this week saw a school board member announce his pending resignation after his son was among a non-school, recreational basketball team – using a Kings gym – to be seen wearing jerseys with racist slurs printed as their backs.

MORE: Kings school board member resigns in wake of racist incident

And days later, Mason Schools officials are apologizing for a white teacher’s “lynching” remark to an African-America middle school student and promising changes.

“We’re going to work hard on this,” said Kings Spokeswoman Dawn Gould, referencing the multiple efforts by district officials in the 4,300-student district to address concerns of the community regarding the incident.

On Friday, Kings officials were planning to address students from Kings High School about the racist jerseys as part of a regularly scheduled group meetings.

Both districts are largely within the Deerfield Twp. borders and are among the most affluent communities in Greater Cincinnati’s northern suburbs.

Kings’ enrollment is 2.3 percent African-American, while black students comprise 4 percent of Mason’s 10,400 students.

Both districts are regularly cited by national publications as being among the academically highest quality performers of Ohio’s 608 public school systems.

“Kings is a high-performing district with great students. Like many other schools around the country, this recent issue is an area we need to work on,” Gould said.

Mason Schools officials said the December classroom incident at Mason Middle School was a clear violation of proper behavior by one of their teachers. The district has acknowledged that a teacher made a mistake after a black student reported that he was told he might be lynched if he didn’t get back to work, according to the Associated Press.

Tanisha Agee-Bell said a white teacher at Mason Middle School made the comment to her 13-year-old son during class in December.

“Sometimes we mess up. Clearly that was the case here,” said Mason schools spokeswoman Tracey Carson. “And even though this teacher did not set out to hurt a child – clearly that happened too.”

The teacher - Renee Thole – faces district disciplinary action but district officials would not comment further on what job actions she may face.

“Our district will continue to invest in training and resources on culturally proficient practices for administrators, educators and classified (non-teaching) staff members that lift up our district’s values,” said Carson.

On Tuesday, Kings school board member Kerry McKiernan announced his intention to retire during an emotional exchange at a board meeting, saying he needed to do so to be accountable for his son’s role the basketball team’s wearing of the racist jerseys.

McKiernan did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Kings officials said as of Thursday he has yet to submit a written resignation letter to the board, which next meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Kings Education Center at 1797 King Ave.

WCPO-TV and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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3 alleged threats and lockdowns add to tense week for schools in Butler County

Published: Friday, February 16, 2018 @ 4:14 PM

Kings Schools are 1 of a few area districts using an anti-shooter device to keep students safer in classrooms.

Just days after a horrific mass school shooting in Florida, three Butler County school systems faced their own threats of violence.

A Hamilton High School student was arrested Thursday for an alleged social media threat, and a Middletown High School student was questioned by city police Friday after allegedly fighting with another student and then, according to fellow students, saying he would go home and return with a gun. Multiple Middletown schools went on lockdown after the report of the threat on Friday.

On Thursday, a Ross High School student, who allegedly posted on social media he could “beat” the casualty toll of the shootings at the Florida high school, which left 17 dead, was arrested and remains in custody. That Ross teen now faces felony charges of inducing panic.

MORE: Hamilton student arrested for threat

MORE: Middletown High School questioned by police after threat

MORE: Ross High School student arrested and jailed after threat

The alleged threats were part of an extraordinarily tense week of school security concerns as the nation remains shaken by the Parkland, Fla. school killings.

“We take all threats seriously and will continue to work together with the Hamilton Police Department to ensure the safety of our students and staff,” Hamilton High School Principal John Wilhelm said in a statement.

“Simply put, we will show zero tolerance for any threatening behavior.”

The scene outside of Middletown High School was emotionally tense after the threat became known to school parents, who were alerted by their children ordered to stay in their classrooms during Friday’s lockdown.

Police rushed to the school and closed down the school’s doors, keeping anyone from leaving or coming in, said Middletown Police Major Scott Reeve.

Reeve said parents were “very sensitive” about concerns of deadly school violence after a former student gunned down students and staff members at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones predicted on Thursday the school shooting would produce “copy cats” during a Facebook video he posted.

MORE: Butler County Sheriff calls for armed guards in schools 

Jones also renewed his call from years ago, lobbying Butler County school officials to allow armed personnel – perhaps retired military veterans or retired police officers – to patrol local schools to deter attacks.

In Warren County, the Kings Schools has been a leader in school security measures by using a simple metal device currently employed by only a handful of southwest Ohio school systems. Portable door wedges that secure heavy classroom doors from being pushed or blasted by gunfire into opening hang by each classroom in the 4,500-student, suburban district in Deerfield Township.

Kings Schools is one of only a handful in Southwest Ohio to use door security devices designed to be installed during active shooter attacks. The Warren County district made the devices available to all its classrooms in 2014.(Staff Writer)

Dubbed “Bearacades” and made by an Ohio company of the same name, the door stop, which is quickly and easily secured by a sturdy metal pin inserted into a hole drilled into a school’s cement under flooring, transforms classrooms into safer havens from active shooters loose in a school building, officials said.

“The Bearacade gives us that tool and that option to make sure we can lock down and keep our kids safe, and it’s going to buy us a lot of time to get those (police) authorities here to help us against an armed, active shooter,” said Dustin Goldie, a veteran Kings High School teacher.

But, said Bill Cushwa, Founder/CEO of Bearacade, “there is no magic solution. Bearacade units are one added layer of safety.”

“Getting out and away is always the ideal situation. That is why all response protocols lead with run, avoid or get out,” said Cushwa. “But, as demonstrated in Florida, if there isn’t enough information, the way out is too dangerous, or you are on an upper floor, locking and blocking the entry into your space is the next best option.”

Kings senior Chris Lane said he and his classmates – many of whom are trained in how to install the door devices - appreciate the school district’s extra security efforts.

“It (door device) is really appreciated around here, especially after what happened (in Florida) because it shows us that the teachers want to keep us safe,” said Lane.

Staff Writers Rick McCrabb and Wayne Baker contributed to this story

VIDEO: See an active shooter drill where a Kings teacher uses a special security door device @journal-news.com

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Wright State faculty angered by planned cuts; ‘terrible decisions’ loom

Published: Friday, February 16, 2018 @ 1:52 PM


            Wright State University
Wright State University

Wright State University’s Board of Trustees voted 7-1 to enact a mandatory furlough policy Friday, even as frustrated professors confronted the university’s leaders about proposed “draconian” cuts they say will erode the institution’s educational quality.

Wright State faces declining enrollment and higher health care costs while it grapples with the outlines of millions of dollars in cuts to avoid deficit spending and being put on a state fiscal watch, officials said.

“We must continue to be realists together while we maintain our passion for this university,” Douglas A. Fecher, chairman of the Board of Trustees, told dozens of faculty members and others gathered for the board meeting Friday. “We simply do not have access to the same level of resources that we once had in the past.”

RELATED: Wright State budget forum becomes negotiating table for faculty union

Fecher said ignoring the economic situation will not make it go away.

“It will demand more hard choices and hard sacrifice,” he said. “Terrible decisions remain and they must be made.”

Last June, Wright State cut nearly $31 million out of its fiscal year 2018 budget in response to years of overspending, and to raise its reserve fund to $6 million. WSU needs to cut an additional $10.5 million because of enrollment issues, and to cover additional scholarship and fellowship costs, this newspaper has reported.

Members of the American Association of University Professors and faculty members rallied against the cuts Friday, saying they have diminished Wright State’s core mission of education by reducing instructors and classes and creating uncertainty and anxiety among faculty, staff and students.

Senate Faculty President Travis E. Doom told the board he and other faculty members have had questions from students about whether they would be able to complete their degree programs and how the cuts would impact their studies.

“This term, the university remarked in a prepared statement that there is no chance that Wright State University is going to close,” he said. “The fact that the university felt the need to make this statement is chilling. The fact that our community thought this was newsworthy is horrifying.”

The AAUP has said the administration has offered a three-year contract with no raises, reduced benefits and higher health care costs amounting to a pay cut.

Nearly 90 percent of AAUP members eligible to vote have voted yes on a strike authorization if a deal is not reached, according to the union. Unresolved bargaining issues include employment security and furloughs, teaching workloads, maintaining summer teaching opportunities, and proposals that would cut pay and health benefits, the labor organization says.

RELATED: Wright State considering employee furloughs if finances don’t improve

Dan Slilaty, a WSU mathematics professor and AAUP member, said Wright State had gone on a “budget-cutting spree” that protects administration and trustee priorities and “slashes” the university’s core mission.

He said about 580 faculty members who teach at the university account for about 17 percent of its budget.

“What we the faculty demand is that all future cuts to the university’s budget be made in the irresponsible, multi-million dollar athletic budget and the extreme salaries and bloat of the upper administration and in risky side ventures,” he said to audience applause.

“If a strike is the only way in which meaningful shared governance is going to happen, if a strike is the only way to stop this reckless disregard for the core mission of the university, then I will vote for a strike, and I believe my colleagues will as well,” he added.

Wright State has made no decision on furloughing employees, but the policy enacted Friday allows the university to impose unpaid days off work for non-union employees should they become necessary.

Any furloughs of AAUP members would have to be contractually negotiated, said Marty Kich, president of the Wright State chapter of the labor organization.

The university and the AAUP are headed to fact-finding in April, he said.

RELATED: Wright State swimming, diving supporters hire consultant to try to save teams Wright State Trustee Bruce Langos, the sole no vote on enacting the policy on mandatory furloughs, said non-bargaining unit support staff have taken enough cuts.

He added the university should spend more time finding new revenue sources.

“I think we have a high probability that we’re going to end up on fiscal watch and we need to make sure that we’re focused on that revenue growth,” he said in an interview. “We can’t put the entire problem on the backs of the employees. We need to be generating revenue.”

David M. Butkovinsky, a long-time WSU accounting professor and AAUP member, told trustees the cuts would hurt both students’ education and the retention and recruitment of faculty.

“The majority of the faculty believes the administration is using the threat of fiscal watch as a convenient excuse to reduce faculty compensation even though by the administration’s own admission, that threat has passed,” he said.

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UPDATE: Lockdown lifted on Middletown schools after reported threat during fight

Published: Friday, February 16, 2018 @ 1:47 PM

Middletown High School was placed on lockdown on Friday after student allegedly made threat

UPDATE @ 2:05 p.m.

Lockdowns at four Middletown Schools are now lifted by school officials, and a student is being questioned by police.

According to Middletown Police a fight at Middletown High School led one male student to say he would go home and return with a gun.

FROM THURSDAY: Snapchat post that he could ‘beat’ Florida shootings caused Ross student to be charged

That alleged comment was reported by students to school officials, who immediately informed police who rushed to the school.

Police then closed down the school’s doors, keeping anyone from leaving or coming in, said Middletown Police Major Scott Reeve.

Some school parents rushed to the school and were distraught in the Middletown High School parking lot because they could not enter the building to pick up their children.

Reeve said parents were “very sensitive” about concerns of deadly school violence in the wake of this week’s mass shooting at a Florida High School that left 17 dead.

Once the lockdown was lifted at 1:45 p.m., several parents took their children out of the school and drove off.

School officials said the investigation into the threat is continuing.

INITIAL REPORT

Middletown High School and three elementaries are on lockdowns after students at the high school reported a threat of violence.

There is no active shooter, weapons or injuries reported at any of the schools, though Elizabeth Beadle, spokeswoman for the city schools, said school and police are continuing to investigate the threat.

Beadle declined to detail the nature of the threat made to the four Middletown schools. She said the threat was not made via social media.

The high school is on a “hard lockdown,” which means students and staff are ordered to stay in classrooms and other school areas until released by authorities.

The three Middletown elementaries - Creekview, Wildwood and Mayfield - are on “soft lockdowns,” which allow students and staff to continue their regular school day activities inside the building, but they are prohibited from leaving the school building.

In a alert posted on the Middletown Schools webpage, officials stated “this message is to inform you that at approximately 12:20 PM today, the Middletown High School received a tip that an individual threatened an act of violence against the school. The Middletown High School went on a lock down and Local Law Enforcement officials were notified immediately.”

“We implemented our crisis response plan, which places the highest priority on the health and safety of our staff, students, and community. Everyone responded quickly and followed prescribed police and school safety procedures. We are still on a lock down at this time. We will update with more details.”

This news organization will report more as information becomes available.

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You should see this pioneering local principal at work. If you can catch him.

Published: Thursday, February 15, 2018 @ 5:22 PM

Lakota?€™s 1st black HS principal is a man in constant motion.

Blink fast if you want to see Lakota West High School’s leader in action.

Principal Elgin Card’s work day at one of Southwest Ohio’s largest high schools is a case study in perpetual motion focused by purpose.

Card has led Lakota West since 2012 – taking over for his mentor, long-time Lakota veteran Dick Hamilton who retired – and he is also an historical first for the Butler County school system.

MORE: Long-time Lakota principal earns hall dedication

Card didn’t - and still doesn’t - make a big deal about being the first African-American high school principal in Lakota’s 62-year-history.

“With it being Black History Month … people will talk to me from time to time about being a role model and being the first black high school principal,” said Card, 48, recently as he took a rare break from his hectic, daily schedule.

MORE: Lakota West gets Scandinavian make over

“For me I’m very lucky and blessed and I want to be a role model for African-American students but more importantly I feel like I’m a role model for everybody. I want to make sure that from the things I do — not only from my words but my actions — that kids understand that and the kids follow. It’s very important to lead by example and that’s what I try to do.”

A typical class bell break finds the former college football star forming a friendly, one-man wedge parting the crowd of students moving through Lakota West’s expansive main hall.

The school is one of the largest in Ohio with an enrollment of 2,200 students.

MORE: Butler County is home to some of state’s largest high schools

Card exchanges hellos, fist bumps, high fives, and encouragement while launching a barrage of “how’s it going?” and personal questions that show not only a remarkable memory but a caring attitude.

“How’d you do on that project?”

“Are things better?”

“Didn’t I tell you, you’d make it?”

The banter includes an occasional admonishment. When asked, one student who violated school policy complained, “you got me suspended.”

Card’s quick retort: “You got yourself suspended.”

“Relationships are so important and that’s what I base it (leadership) on. If kids know you care about them, they will do what you ask them to do and they will work even harder for you,” Card said.

Lakota Superintendent Matt Miller is halfway through his first year as leader of the 16,500-student district, but being a veteran of Ohio public education, he knows what he sees and likes in Card’s leadership.

“He has a unique style that helps to create a personal connection with his students and staff, building relationships with each and promoting diversity and inclusion throughout the school,” Miller said.

“He is an incredibly dedicated leader, creating a community that encourages both staff and students to work hard in an effort to achieve their best, both academically and personally.”

VIDEO: See Lakota West High School Principal Elgin Card and his fast-paced style of leadership @journal-news.com