By Colt Gill, Anthony Veliz and Peter Weber
Parkrose High School in Portland boasts a school profile of enviable diversity. With 28 languages spoken by students representing a cross-section of world cultures, the school is a model of how people from different backgrounds can create a single thriving school community.
That diversity is usually welcomed as many of Parkrose’s sports teams, choirs and bands compete with other schools around the state. But as many of us now know through media reports, that wasn’t the case for the Parkrose girls varsity basketball team recently. The team was subjected to racial taunts and monkey noises from three individuals in the bleachers at a January road game.
Such behavior is repugnant and has no place in our schools and their related activities. Our schools, ballfields, gyms, and other venues are not an outlet for hatred and bigotry. This hatred and bigotry should not be tolerated anywhere.
Even more troubling about this incident is that according to reports, none of the adults in attendance took measures to stop this harassing behavior.
Sadly, the problem is widespread across Oregon. This year alone reports of racial slurs and taunts aimed at African-American, Latinx, and Native American students have been reported in several communities. Students of color and their families have been made to feel unsafe, unwelcome, and harassed at school sponsored events. This is not a new phenomenon, but unfortunately has been occurring for far too long. The athletic teams from the Woodburn School District, one of Oregon’s most diverse school districts, have also been subjected to racial taunts and other demoralizing and improper actions toward the student-athletes. These actions are simply unacceptable.
As leaders of Oregon’s educational and interscholastic organizations we are committed to taking concrete steps to ensure that none of our student-athletes faces such behavior at a school event again. That holds equally true for our students participating in school sponsored activities: our dancers and cheerleaders
, and members of our bands, orchestras, choirs and speech clubs.
We have already met to discuss how we will work collaboratively on education and awareness, preventative measures, and restorative justice, along with holding people accountable for transgressions. We will also distribute policy and guidance to our schools to be sure we are guarding our students’ civil rights as they participate in school activities. While details are still being decided, we are in agreement that plans will be finalized and in place when school resumes this fall.
The Oregon School Activities Association will take the lead on these efforts with support from the state Board of Education, the Oregon Department of Education, Oregon School Boards Association and Confederation of Oregon School Administrators. We are also counting on guidance from the Oregon School Board Members of Color Caucus and the COSA Equity Advisory Board.
We have committed to hiring a facilitator to develop our plan. And we are committed to engaging historically underserved students and parents to help get the plan right.
We appreciate that state legislators are also attempting to address this important issue through passage of House Bill 3409. The bill requires that for a school to join an organization such as the Oregon School Activities Association the organization must first establish a complaint process “addressing use of derogatory or inappropriate names” at interscholastic activities. While it is important to address complaints and seek remedies after a problem has arisen, our goal is to squelch acts of hatred in the moment or prevent them altogether.
If passed, the bill would go into effect July 1 as the authors have designated that an emergency exists. On that point we are in agreement: It is an emergency that requires our immediate and thorough attention.
Regardless of how the bill fares, we are going to do the necessary work on behalf of our young people. If students cry when their competition is over, let those be tears of joy or disappointment – but never as the result of hatred and bigotry.
This opinion piece originally appeared in The Oregonian. Colt Gill is deputy superintendent of public instruction. Peter Weber is executive director of the Oregon School Activities Association. Anthony Veliz is chairman of the state board of education. Jim Green, executive director of the Oregon School Boards Association and Craig Hawkins, executive director of the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators, also co-authored this piece.