Of the student population that attended Sandy High last year, 76% were white. While that makes minority students even more the minority at Sandy, a handful of students of various backgrounds are working on an effort they says will help students of color feel safe on campus.
Earlier this month, students Molly Izer, Josiah Rothwell, Becca Tamaad and Jake Billard created a petition calling on the Oregon Trail School District Board of Directors to ban the image of the Confederate flag from school campuses and "address racism and its perpetuation within SHS."
The group, supported by members of the Sandy STAND UP Movement, which has recently formed to promote anti-racism in the community, argues the Confederate flag is used at school often in conjunction with racial slurs and as a "hate symbol" and to "intentionally incite controversy."
"It's no secret that the racism within Sandy High School is pervasive and unaddressed. Members of the community know of it, as do other schools around the state," the petition states. "Students within our halls proudly use racial slurs, make racist jokes, and wear hate symbols without reprimand. In this year alone I documented 13 different uses of the Confederate flag within our student body. This environment not only encourages students to think this behavior is acceptable but also, in its compliancy, makes students of color feel unsafe and devalued."
So far, the petition on change.org has garnered 2,700 signatures, many from students at the high school.
While members of the Class of 2021 are at the forefront of the current effort to address racism and educate peers on how it's been perpetuated in Sandy and beyond, Izer says these issues are not new to the community or the high school.
"This didn't start right now," Izer explained. "We've had past students fighting for this cause. I personally went in last year and asked them to ban the flag. And basically up until now we've been told that wasn't possible, but considering we have a global effort to push for racial equality, we figure this is the best time to really push for this specific agenda."
Frank George IV, who worked at Sandy High as a student teacher, said even from his short time in the school he noticed that there were daily instances of students wearing clothing bearing the Confederate flag and also using racial slurs.
George noted that he only knows of one other school in Oregon that's banned the Confederate flag, and as an educator, he sees that as not only affecting students socially, but academically as well.
"From the perspective of an educator, one of the central principles, kind of our version of the Hippocratic Oath, is to provide a learning environment where all students feel safe and can learn," George said. "From the Sandy STAND UP Movement's perspective, as we've talked about with city officials, when students, not just students of color, but also white students who are also offended by the Confederate flag, see the Confederate flag being worn, it's oftentimes a large disruption of the learning environment and to the point where students don't feel safe so they aren't learning effectively because they're more concerned about if the student wearing the flag is then going to use some racial slur against them or harass them in some way. So, from a pure educational standpoint, that environment is really not effective or conducive to teaching or learning."
Both Izer and George have voiced opinions that the district avoids reprimanding students who use racial slurs or who harass students of color out of fear of litigation.
"Talking with staff and trying to learn the ins and outs of being an educator, to be honest, the stance of the administrators is that they don't want to die on that hill," George noted. "So, for us, we were essentially told don't bother sending it to us because we're not going to get involved for fear of lawsuits."
"My concern is that the district itself values staying out of a lawsuit over the safety of students of color," Izer added.
Students like Izer, who was recently elected president of the National Honor Society, and Josiah Rothwell, the new Associated Student Body president, say they've typically seen others and even themselves hold leadership positions in the school and never broach the issues of racial equality that being student leadership gives them a platform to address. They're trying to change that.
"I've been in ASB for most of my school years," Rothwell explained. "I don't feel I've utilized that role as much as I should have."
Rothwell, as Mexican-American student, says he's not only witnessed racism at Sandy High, but experienced it. He also added that while he's received a good deal of positive feedback about the petition, he's also received threats of violence and messages using racial slurs.
"I've seen racism happen," Rothwell said. "Someone's even told me they hoped my mom got deported. We go to a school that boasts a zero-tolerance policy, but students are still ostracized. I have to use the privilege I have to (help create change). This petition is a small battle in a larger war. I hope it makes students realize that even though we're young, we're powerful and capable of change."
Members of the Oregon Trail School Board of Directors are aware of the petition. Newly elected chairman Randy Carmony, when asked about the effort, said any statement he made as chair needed to be backed by and reflect the consensus of the board as a whole.
He then added that "racism has no place in our schools."
The leaders of the student effort are coordinating with the board and district administrators to set up a meeting to discuss possible policy changes that could offer extended protection to students of color and educate students on the history and perpetuation of racism.
The petition supports adding an amendment to the student handbook and dress code banning hate symbols within the campus of Sandy High.
It also calls for the creation of an elected student leadership position "for the sole purpose of addressing racial inequity within school activities" and giving "more ample representation to students of color."
"I do see this, especially as a cultural issue, but as an issue we have to attack from the school," Izer noted. "Our school is not just producing graduates, we're producing members of the community. If we want to better our community, bettering our school is the very first step to take."
To learn more about the petition or add your name, visit bit.ly/SHSpetition2020.
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