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Wayne parent alleges ‘culture of hate,’ superintendent touts positive culture

Published: Thursday, October 05, 2017 @ 4:21 PM
By: Will Garbe - Staff Writer

Wayne High School’s principal met this week with a parent who alleges there is a “culture of hate … and white supremacy within all Huber Heights City Schools,” according to interviews with the parent and superintendent.

After Principal Jeff Berk met Monday with parent Will Smith, Smith on Wednesday evening sent local news media an eight-point list of demands on behalf of a group called the “Coalition of Concerned African American Parents and Students of Wayne High School.”

“There are glaring disparities with how African American students are handled versus the way white students are handled,” Smith said in the press release. “African American students and families feel that no matter how many times they voice their concerns, their pleas” fall on deaf ears.

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Meanwhile, district officials said they were surprised Smith went to the media after what they believed was a constructive meeting during which Smith was invited to sit on the school’s parent advisory committee.

“They met for over an hour,” Superintendent Sue Gunnell said of Berk’s meeting with Smith. “My impression was that Mr. Berk said it was a good conversation and tried to assure him that, no, this is not happening, everything has a great, positive climate here at Wayne High School.”

Additionally, Gunnell said teachers work on practicing positive behavior intervention and support to create a “climate that is one of respect” and safety at school. She additionally said parents were welcome to meet with her to discuss concerns.

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Smith said, “While the administration prides itself on being the only high school in Ohio with outstanding diversity, parents are concerned that the administrative and teaching staff do not fully grasp what true diversity looks like in practice.”

Smith — whose daughter is a senior at Wayne — and his public relations agent said they would work to provide the media with proof.

“It is my understanding that he, as well as another parent … met with the principal and got a lot of lip service,” said Jessica Watters-East, the public relations agent. “He felt that no one was looking into the totality of the incident.”

“They would like to sit down with members of the school higher ups,” she said. “He’s planning on being at the school board meeting.”

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Other parents interviewed by this newsroom indicated the problems were being overplayed.

“I would say there is a little racial tension…” said Monica Richardson, who is black and whose daughter is a senior at Wayne High School. She said her daughter was nervous about going to school Monday because of bomb threats. “But the issues going on, I’m not so certain it’s actually racial.”

The main points of tension between Smith and the district are:

» Threats of violence: Smith says that prior to Saturday’s homecoming dance “several threats of violence were made. The threats were targeting African American students who had exercised their First Amendment rights by kneeling silently as the national anthem played during a pep assembly and the subsequent football game. Following this peaceful protest, a number of white students sent threats via SnapChat and graffiti written on school property. A number of teachers threatened students as well.”

Gunnell said Thursday: “My understanding is that there were not threats to students of color.”

Berk said a message found in a bathroom last week said “people at Wayne are going to die.” School officials identified the student responsible for that message, started the student conduct procedure, and notified police. Then, on Saturday night, the school’s homecoming dance was abruptly ended when a loud noise and threat of a “gun” spooked students and caused a police response. Administrators also identified a student connected to the incident and are working through the school’s conduct procedure, but police said this week officers will not bring charges in the incident.

The Dayton Daily News and WHIO have requested the Huber Heights Police Division provide incident reports and investigations involving Wayne High School since July 1. Additionally, the news organizations have requested that the district and police provide video of the homecoming incident.

» Attendance issues: Smith alleges that on Monday “over (50 percent) of enrolled students did not attend school because of a bomb threat posted on SnapChat.”

Attendance was down to about 80 percent on Monday, this newsroom reported Berk saying on Tuesday. A typical school day sees an attendance rate of about 91 percent, Berk said.

“There were less students than a typical day, but it wasn’t drastic numbers,” he said.

» First Amendment issues: Smith “demands” that “The First Amendment right(s) of students and parents … be upheld,” but in a follow-up interview with this news outlet conceded that the rights are already being upheld.

In the same press release demanding First Amendment rights be upheld “without being harassed and threatened by staff, students and other parents,” Smith detailed how Berk “had a meeting with the staff of Wayne HS and reminded them that the students who chose to kneel are afforded the right to do so under the protections of the United State(s) Constitution and it is unlawful to coerce, harass or intimidate a student to stand during the playing of the National Anthem.”

Gunnell said Berk addressed the school over its public address system to remind them “that students have the right to kneel and sit, and we have to be respectful of that.”