These comments were written by Dr. Tiyi Morris, WeRISE Board President, and recently presented to the Board of Education of the Westerville City School District.
Good evening. My name is Dr. Tiyi Morris. I am a parent in the district and the President of WeRISE.
There are a few issues I wish to address. First, I am constantly amazed at the ineptitude and inadequacy of this body. Two weeks ago, y’all ended the school board meeting early due to an unwillingness to enforce your own policy of wearing a mask inside district buildings. Yet, when audience members wanted to remain in the room to hear the comments of parents who had come to speak, Kellogg threatened to have the police escort us out of the building. Your actions demonstrate a lack of moral fortitude to preserve the integrity of this meeting space and a seeming desire to thwart public engagement that would highlight your failings and incompetence. Disturbing, but unfortunately, this behavior is consistent with previous Board actions. Or perhaps inaction is a more apropos word.
Second, I am speaking in solidarity with the parents of children who have been subjected to racial harassment by peers, who face little or no repercussions for their racist actions. And students who endure racial harassment with little or no intervention from teachers and administrators. My daughter was one of those children nearly a decade ago when she was a student in Westerville City Schools. I am also speaking tonight in solidarity with the students who have experienced sexual assault in our schools and with the parents who have come forward to demand justice for their children and accountability from the district. I stand with those who have had the courage to speak up as well as those who are still suffering from their trauma in silence.
I am appalled at the myriad ways this district has failed and continues to fail our children, while lauding yourselves for measures such as implementing equity teams and increasing enrollment of Black and brown students in AP classes. That is the bare minimum of what needs to be done and the fact that it has taken the district so long to reach this point is telling. If you have decades of experience then you should have a better understanding of systemic racism in this country’s educational institutions, including those in Westerville. You should understand the ways rape culture and toxic masculinity permeate our society and institutions. And you should be doing a better job to eliminate the daily injustices in our schools that stem from racist, sexist, and heterosexist oppression. You have yet to even have something as basic as community wide listening circles with students of color and their parents about the racism and harassment they face. Our schools are supposed to be safe places, where students are nurtured and loved, but they are not, for many students, especially Black and brown students, and gay, trans, and gender non-conforming students.
I am not interested in 1-on-1 conversations with individuals in this group that give the appearance of being listened to but result in no action. Such private, undocumented conversations foster misinformation and are tactics of misdirection. I want transparency and accountability. And, if you want the Black Parents Association to support you then you need to publicly advocate for and support the needs of Black students.
A few weeks ago, I taught a piece by the late, Black lesbian poet and scholar audre lorde, titled “the transformation of silence into language and action,” where she discussed the need to articulate truth, regardless of how scary or painful it may be. She stated “My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.” This is a message we must heed. The problems of racism and sexual assault that are happening in Westerville schools are not new. What is new is that I am not going to continue to acquiesce to these injustices with my silence. I applaud the parents and students who are speaking up about the injustices they experience or witness and encourage others to do the same. Well, not the faux patriots who reinforce racism, heterosexism, and transphobia.
We are demanding accountability and transparency from the school board. We are demanding that you do better. We are demanding that you do your job – that you support educators in teaching the truth; that you protect the most vulnerable of our students and hold teachers and administrators who fail to do so accountable; that you hold people who violate our children accountable, both students and teachers; that you operate with integrity and in the best interests of our students and not simply to placate a vocal fringe desiring to maintain the status quo of racism, heterosexism, transphobia, and fear of science. And, members of the school board, your silence will not protect you either.