Racist vandalism at school concerns parents

Tara Pringle


Theodore Roosevelt High School principal Roger Sidoti discusses the racist graffiti vandals left at the school with parents and community members in the school’s auditorium.

Credit: Adam Griffiths

After meeting with members of the faculty on Monday, Roger Sidoti, Theodore Roosevelt High School principal, called an assembly yesterday morning to speak with black students regarding the racially motivated vandalism that occurred last week.

Nikki Marchmon-Boykin, a black teacher at the high school, said she and other black faculty members held a meeting with the principal last night to address their concerns that the initial response to the incident was insufficient.

“We’re treating this as a crisis situation,” she said. “We’re treating this as if the students were victims of an unprovoked hate crime.”

Marchmon-Boykin, who is also a counselor, said she and the other faculty members gave Sidoti a few suggestions to remedy the situation. She said he has been extremely supportive of their requests.

Among their requests, they asked that Sidoti make a formal apology to the school’s black students, give the students a chance to express their feelings about the incident and implement racial sensitivity training for all faculty members as part of their professional development.

In his apology, Sidoti said the school had been “lulled into a false sense of security concerning racism and racist attitudes.”

“This false sense caused a failure in our organization to respond quickly to the needs of many of our African-American students who, maybe for the first time, experienced a crisis of faith in a school that is noted for caring deeply about its students,” Sidoti said.

During the two hour assembly, black students were able to express themselves in a “private, safe environment,” Marchmon-Boykin said.

“This is a climate they’ve never experienced,” she said. “We wanted them to be able to speak without feeling they needed to censor themselves.”

Marchmon-Boykin said the high school is a “microcosm of America. Of course there are issues.” However, she said that in her 13 years at Roosevelt seeing racism this blatant was a new experience for her.

Parents speak out

More than 150 concerned Theodore Roosevelt parents and students huddled on one side of the school’s auditorium yesterday night to discuss the racial slurs and confederate flags that were spray-painted on the walls of the high school last week.

Geraldine Hayes-Nelson, mother of a Roosevelt student and associate dean of Undergraduate Studies at Kent State, moderated the forum.

“This is an opportunity for open discussion,” Hayes-Nelson said. “We want to dispel rumors, discuss systemic change and start the healing process. We have to discuss where we go from here.”

Principal Roger Sidoti explained the administration’s actions, beginning with the discovery of the graffiti, to the parent forum held Tuesday evening.

After Sidoti spoke, parents and students were given a chance to speak and ask questions.

Several parents questioned why the alarms didn’t go off and whether their students would be safe in the school. Sidoti explained that because of a glitch in the system, the school hadn’t been secure all year, but the problem was resolved after testing it several times over the past few days.

Other parents wanted to know what the school was planning to offer in terms of counseling for the students.

“Look at your administrative team,” said a father of three Roosevelt children. “Do you see a black face in it? Who is designated for our students to go to talk about what concerns them?”

The rest of the discussion mostly focused on an article written in the school newspaper by Chris Hook, which discussed black students’ tendency to congregate among themselves, and the racial tensions that surrounded the article.

“I am ignorant about the black community and I know that,” Hook said. “I’m deeply sorry if any of the language I chose to use offended anyone.”

Pam Harr, the advisor of the paper, said it was a matter of free speech.

“What I read for is libel or obscenity,” Harr said. “The staff makes decisions about what is in the paper. The paper brought to light an issue that people were uncomfortable with.”

However, many parents in the audience felt the article was offensive, and played a small role in igniting the racial tensions in the school.

“It was like throwing a lit match into a powder keg,” Kevin Howard said.

Hayes-Nelson closed the forum by offering suggestions of how the community should move forward.

“We need to have an open dialogue and I believe it starts in the home,” she said. “We have to discuss hiring practices for faculty. African-American parents need to be more visible, not reactive.”

Contact public affairs reporter Tara Pringle at [email protected].