Following a racially charged incident in Athens High School last school year in which a racial slur was used, the Athens City School District is looking to change culture within its schools. 

The incident, which occurred between two Athens High School students last spring, inspired a wave of community concern that pushed the school district to examine its culture and reconsider how it addressed bias and discrimination moving forward. 

The Athens City School District enlisted the help of Sarah Webb, a social worker and lecturer at Ohio University, to conduct a survey on bias and discrimination within the district. The survey was emailed to parents, students, faculty members and other members of the community.

The survey asked about experiences related to bias and discrimination in the school district, bystander involvement and understanding of available resources among other related topics, according to the Bias and Discrimination Survey Report provided by Webb.

Of the 400 individuals who answered, approximately one-fourth indicated they had been treated poorly based on various demographics, and approximately one-half indicated they had witnessed someone else being treated poorly. 

Following the survey, a series of focus groups were held to expand the initial ideas given in response to the survey and to add additional objectives for the school board to consider.

“What we were looking for weren’t the percentages. What we were looking for were the details, because I can’t respond to percentages,” Thomas Gibbs, superintendent for Athens City School District, said.

Detail within the open-ended survey responses and focus group conversations were helpful in understanding where incidents were occurring and what type of discrimination was taking place, Gibbs said. He also explained that the amount of bias and discrimination incidents being reported has increased.

The district plans to hold additional focus groups in the future, and that it will implement a three-pronged approach to handling issues related to bias and discrimination, Gibbs said. 

The three-pronged approach will include educating administrators on Titles IX, VI and VII civil rights investigations. The approaches would also include instructing teachers on how to spot and defuse implicit bias. 

Another strategy that is being used to spot implicit bias is the Responsive Classroom technique.

“(Responsive Classroom is) a training method to look at the dynamic that’s in your classroom… and to deal with these things before they become behavior problems,” Paul Grippa, Athens City School District Board member, said.

Kim Goldsberry, Athens City School Board member, said there can be conflict when the different student populations combine during middle and high school. 

“We have a very diverse student population, but the way our elementary schools are set up, one school gets the benefit of having seven different nationalities in one classroom,” Goldsberry said. “When you put them together in middle school and high school, there can be conflict.”

The Athens City School Board will continue the discussion of grade configuration following a Nov. 6 school levy vote. 

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