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'They have made this political': Students, parents protest Forest Hills BOE's vote against Diversity Day

Board member Leslie Rasmussen refused to vote
Forest Hills School District headquarters in Anderson Township
Posted at 7:33 AM, May 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-02 23:41:28-04

ANDERSON TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Protesters gathered outside the Forest Hill School District's central office Monday night after its board of education decided Turpin High School's diversity day will no longer happen during school hours, use school resources or be paid for by taxpayers.

During a special meeting Sunday, the board voted 4-0 to put the event on hold. The decision comes one month after the long-running event was postponed by the school board so parents could review the agenda and speakers to sign permission slips.

Board member Leslie Rasmussen said she refused to vote.

"You all lied about the reason for interfering with diversity day,” Rasmussen said during the meeting. “You said it was because of the process. That people didn’t have enough information on these permission slips.”

She accused the board members of canceling the event because of the content. Rasmussen said Monday the board made the day "political."

"The reason provided to the community for the cancellation of diversity day was about process in the sense that parents did not have enough information. So the Administrative Office corrected that, we rescheduled it and then you saw what happened last night," Rasmussen said. "They gave their reasons yesterday, they said it's full of CRT and social justice. And that's it. They have made this political."

Students who were part of the planning process of the event said the vote was a huge disappointment.

“It's just been a whole disregard of the effort put in by students and that passion that we have,” Turpin senior Casey Lupariello said. “We want to make this event happen and succeed."

Senior Claire Mengel also helped plan the event. They said the vote was a letdown and fears things will only get worse from here.

“There have been multiple suicides in the district in the past few years. We are in the middle of a mental health crisis that this board is actively worsening by promoting hate in the community,” Mengel said. “I’m just worried about what will happen next and worry about students coming to school and not feeling accepted or safe."

The event has been held for several years and is described as a day to highlight cultural and racial issues. Students must have their parents' permission to attend. The event is for junior and senior students and is optional. It includes activities and guest speakers.

Board member Sara Jonas read questions from one of the activities planned that included questions on if students faced economic or racial disparities.

Here are some of the questions Jonas read:

“Have you ever been embarrassed or ashamed of your clothes, house or family car growing up?”

“Do you have immediate family members who are doctors, lawyers, professors, engineers or other white-collar professionals?”

“Has pimping or prostitution, drugs or other illegal activities been a major occupational alternative in the community in which you were raised?”

“Has any woman or man in your family, including yourself been physically or sexually assaulted in any way?”

“Does your family have health insurance?”

After reading Jonas said, "To me, I don't understand how this is the business of students, staff or leaders in this exercise. It’s also important to note one of the guest speakers. On their mission statement, it states ‘unite and ignite people for racial justice.'”

Jonas said she believes this is political indoctrination to the students. She also claimed that students could not afford to minimize the additional instructional time during the school day.

Board member Katie Steward said she voted against it because she "wanted it to be at both Turpin and Anderson." When asked if she would reconsider, Steward said, "I would reconsider letting it continue at Turpin alone if that's the will of the population and the students that go there. I just was wanting to include schools and try and make it a community event."

Students who are part of the event do not agree. They said it's not about politics, it's about broadening their peers' perspective of life outside their community.

“We don’t discuss issues pertaining to political parties or political issues," Casey Lupariello said. "The day itself is only focused on reflecting on how diversity looks in our lives and how it looks outside of the Turpin High School/Cincinnati bubble, giving students a much more informed way of issues regarding diversity in the real world.”

According to Lupariello, the area and the district are not diverse and are predominantly white.

WCPO reached out to all board members, but did not get a response from the other three.

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