A white student at a Washington state elementary school told his mother he can't join a school club with his friends since it's open only to students of color — and the mother said the school club is "promoting segregation."
What are the details?
The club at Centennial Elementary School in Olympia is exclusively for students who identify as black, indigenous, or people of color, KOMO-TV reported.
“My son came home and said that they came into the classes, and they were promoting this and talked it up to the students, but then he found out that since he was white, he wasn’t able to participate,” parent Jessica Juergens told the station. “They have their friends that they want to play with at lunch, and a fourth or fifth grader can’t understand why they can’t play with their friends.”
An anonymous parent provided KOMO with an email exchange with principal Shannon Ritter, who said the the club for fifth graders meets weekly during lunch to hang out, talk about their experiences, and build connections and confidence. The station said the exchange indicates the club is limited to BIPOC students.
“The student BIPOC group is focused on providing a safe space for students of color who have historically been excluded or marginalized. This group is aligned with the equity work of the District,” the email reads, according to KOMO. “Our district continues to be committed to providing opportunities of support to our BIPOC students. Programs like this were first launched across the district last year.”
But Juergens isn't thrilled, telling the station, “I feel like it’s promoting segregation at our schools, and we’ve moved away from that."
Another anonymous parent disagreed, telling KOMO "the school is doing a really good job of including everybody, whatever gender, race, orientation that they are. My kids certainly feel comfortable here.”
What did the school district have to say?
An Olympia School District spokesperson confirmed to the station the authenticity of the principal's email exchange with the parent and added that "the purpose of the districtwide OSD Mentor Program is to provide leadership and mentoring opportunities for students with an emphasis on historically underrepresented populations including students of color and those impacted by poverty. ... The Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) Mentor Group at Centennial Elementary School, and some other schools, is an outgrowth of this districtwide effort. It serves students by providing opportunities for peer interaction and a space for social, emotional and academic support. This space allows for more honest and open conversations about differences and identity and how it impacts one’s experiences in school. It is designed to be a student-led group facilitated by an adviser to plan for leadership opportunities."
The statement added, however, that district officials understand that school groups "cannot be exclusionary. Moving forward, we will ensure that school leadership and staff are specific about the purpose of these groups, while simultaneously removing any exclusions to participation," KOMO said.
The state superintendent's office provided a similar response to the station, saying that "if a student felt that they were being discriminated against because they were being excluded from an opportunity or space at school because of their race, the student could file a complaint, and we would be likely to provide technical assistance to the school to clarify that they should not exclude students who wish to participate."
(H/T: Jason Rantz)
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