Parents gather to 'listen and learn' at Lake Oswego Junior High
More than 75 community members joined a handful of administrators Tuesday night for a "Listen and Learn" meeting scheduled in the wake of a racist incident at Lake Oswego Junior High School.
The incident on Jan. 26 involved a Post-it note containing the words "n****r dog" that was passed to an African American eighth-grader. It sparked outrage throughout the community, not only in reaction to the incident itself but also to the punishment given to the perpetrators.
One of the students involved was given a one-day suspension, several sources have told The Review, while two others were assigned to in-school detentions. As a rule, the district does not comment on disciplinary actions involving students; instead, it scheduled a series of assemblies for students and meetings for parents and community members to talk about school culture.
The district has also instituted a variety of programs and practices designed to combat hate speech, bullying and harassment (See story, Page A17), but Tuesday's meeting was the first organized opportunity for community members to share their thoughts.
LOJ Principal Sarah Deboy welcomed parents by acknowledging the recent events at her school.
"As a school, we have been through something very painful," she said. "It shows how much more work we have to do, and how much we need to put a focus on inclusion, including teacher training, parent conversations and community outreach."
The event was moderated by John Lennsen, a local facilitator, trainer and consultant who works primarily with school districts and public organizations on issues of cultural competency, diversity, conflict, civil rights, intercultural communication, leadership and change. He told the group that the gathering was "very significant — for the school, the district and for the community at large."
"We want to make sure that everyone is heard," he said. "It's very important that you share your time with each other."
Audience members broke into small groups, with each discussion moderated by principals, faculty, School Board members and other community leaders. The groups were asked to consider the question, "What do students and families in our community need?" with a focus on those who have experienced disrespect.
Lennsen also asked the groups to provide recommendations or suggestions for the school, the district and the greater community that would lead to positive improvements, especially around the issues of equity, inclusion and diversity.
After one hour of engaged conversation, the participants were then asked to share their thoughts with the larger group. Many participants expressed the need to acknowledge Lake Oswego's racist history.
"We need to begin from a position of honesty. We do live in a racist town," one man shared. "We need to recognize that, and self-reflect in order to move forward."
Others believed that changes should be made to the makeup of school staff and administration.
"We discussed that we need a faculty that is more diverse," said one participant. "This community is not very racially diverse, but that doesn't mean our educators shouldn't be. We think hiring practices need to be looked at."
One parent shared that when her son was the target of racially-charged bullying, she would have liked the teacher or school to have reported it directly to her. By the time she found out from her son weeks later, she said, the school didn't respond proactively.
"It was unclear what was going to happen. There were no clear guidelines or expectations," she shared. "It should be clear what the rules are, what's done when they're broken, and what the next steps are after that."
Willie Poinsette, one of the co-founders of the grassroots group Respond to Racism, highlighted the need to support student leaders. She talked about Lake Oswego High student Margo Sidline, who recently organized a documentary screening and panel discussion to address issues of anti-Semitism and racism at the school.
"We need to empower our student leaders," Poinsette said. "We could all learn a lot from Margo."
Poinsette also shared the need to continue the conversation long after the shock of the recent event wears off.
"If we stop tonight, it's all been for naught," she said.