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Ohio County Schools Discussing Anti-Racism Policy

Wheeling Park alumnus and artist Vondel Bell designed this Together We Stand logo Ohio County Schools.

WHEELING — Ohio County Schools wants to have an anti-racism policy in place for the start of the school year, and it proposes the establishment of a racial justice reporting system in the school district and enhancing history curriculum.

Some details of the “Together We Stand” policy being formulated are being discussed by the Ohio County Board of Education.

Assistant Superintendent Rick Jones recently told school board members that following the May 25 death of George Floyd, school officials have been meeting with members of the community to establish anti-racism policies in the school district.

The group began with Jones; Ohio County Schools Student Services Director Raquel McCleod; and Ron Scott, cultural diversity and community outreach director at YWCA Wheeling; as well as others representing teachers, administrators, counselors, board of education and students.

It was also noticed by Jones that Wheeling Park High School alumnus Hinal Pujara was organizing an anti-racism petition through social media, and she was asked to merge her efforts with the group to achieve a plan for the upcoming school year.

The group also is working with representatives from The Linsly School and Wheeling Central Catholic High School to form a social justice club, and the collective group is being called the “Social Justice Allies.”

“Our goal from the beginning was we did not want to do something that was temporary or just the way the wind was blowing that day or that month,” Jones said.

“We wanted to do something that would extend the entire calendar of the school year with time lines attached that would keep us on target for doing all the things we want to do. We also wanted it to allow us to add to our plans for year two and year three.”

Among the first things the group did was to have another WPHS alumnus, artist Vondel Bell, design a logo for Together We Stand. It depicts four hands of varying skin colors holding up the existing Ohio County Schools logo. It will be used on t-shirts and other merchandise to promote the cause.

“The reason we took our time with this is we wanted to make it real, and make it genuine,” Jones said. “This is not something ‘feel good.’ If it were ‘feel good’ we wouldn’t have spent many, many hours of effort to do it.

“This is something I am personally extremely passionate about.”

McCleod addressed the board recently, and described the school district’s anti-racism policy as it is currently being discussed.

She said it will contain a reporting process at each school, where there will be a designated person to hear complaints and an on-line system for filing them. There are plans for follow up to see if the problem was resolved.

McCleod said there will be “meaningful interventions and consequences” as a result of the new policy, and the school district will engage with counselors and form community partnerships to work with students.

History classes within Ohio County Schools also will take on a different look, according to McCleod. There will be a focus on analyzing American and West Virginia history to discuss how happenings affected enslaved people, and to hear voices from different perspectives.

The new social studies curriculum adopted by Ohio County Schools will address the Civil War and slavery in the fourth grade, she said.

Pujara pointed out there was something noticeably missing in the district’s efforts to form an anti-racism policy.

“As someone mentioned in (last month’s) virtual meeting, there currently are no students of color sitting in on these discussions,” she said. “The demographics in the meeting are overwhelmingly homogenous in terms of race and economic status. (People participating) are dominantly white and upper class.

“It is incredibly important that this plan meant to protect students’ interests include those same students’ input, and that discussions and revisions of the plan remain on-going,” Pujara said.

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