Civil rights investigation finds probable instances of racial, age discrimination at Sidney schools

SIDNEY — A recently concluded investigation by the Civil Rights Commission found it was probable that the Sidney City School district engaged in unlawful discrimination for both age and race when choosing to bring back certain employees last year.

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The investigation centered around a move by the school district in 2020 to eliminate all aides within the district. Many were brought back by the district shortly after, however none of the them were minorities.

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“My first expression I was in shock, I just stared at my phone like this is really happening and then I just broke down and cried. It made me question myself. What did I do wrong in my job,” former Sidney schools aide ShaRhonda Johnson told News Center 7′s James Rider.

“When I received the news I cried. I was like, I couldn’t believe it. Everybody said you’ll only lose your job if you do something dumb and then it’s like ‘what I did?’” ex-Sidney aide Erika Foster-Wheeler said.

The decision to bring some of the aides back was based on a ranking system that was given to school principals. The employees were ranked as a 1, 2, or 3 and were based on things like “are they a great Sidney School employee regardless of position” and “what is their attendance like.”

The investigation by the Civil Rights Commission found the ranking system was subjective. Despite both Johnson and Foster-Wheeler ranking as twos, and having continuing contracts, neither were recalled or rehired while the district brought back white aides who ranked as two and threes.

“When you found out such and such was kept over you. Then that’s when the questions hit. Why were they kept over me when I know I did this better than them. That’s why the questions ran because I just had a good evaluation this year so why was I let go?” Johnson said.

Both Foster-Wheeler and Johnson said they felt they were not brought back by the district because of their skin color.

“I felt that way,” Foster-Wheeler said.

“Yes, I very well do because there were people that were kept that came in later than me. There were people whose contracts were up where I was on a continuous contract who was kept over me. There was people who had bad evaluations that was kept over me. Why me?” Johnson said.

According to 2018 data, 6.4 percent of the school staff at Sidney City Schools were from minority groups. In 2020, that number dropped to only 1.7 percent.

Minority groups make up more than 13 percent of the population of Sidney, and in the schools nearly 22 percent of the students are minorities. The percentages of minority representation within district employees is also part of the concern from both Foster-Wheeler and Johnson.

“You let go all the minority over these people then you don’t bring anybody in so who works with these kids of minority,” Johnson said.

Both Foster-Wheeler and Johnson said their concern for the community and love of the children in the district got them to speak out about the issue.

“Even if I don’t go back to the schools anymore. I don’t want somebody else with a different color or different race they do them the same thing they do to us because it was wrong,” Foster-Wheeler said.

“I want the people in the community to know that we’re not doing this because we want something out of it. We want a wrong fixed,” Johnson said.

A Sidney City Schools spokesperson declined comment for this story.

Currently, there are three cases of alleged racial discrimination and two cases of alleged age discrimination as part of these civil rights findings. An attorney has agreed to represent all five and the cases are moving forward to the next step.

James Rider

James Rider

I was born in Virginia and have moved several times in my life as a member of an Air Force family. I've lived in Virginia, California, Germany, England, and Ohio. I graduated from Centerville High School and then went on to attend Ball State University where I graduated with a bachelor's degree.