Opponents of a state Board of Education resolution condemning racism disputed whether a systemic problem exists in Ohio.
“I have a problem with segregating out groups and making statements such as this: ‘Whereas profound disparities between black, indigenous, and people of color students and their white peers exist in all parts of Ohio’s education system’,” said John Hagan, a board member from Alliance.
“That is a pretty damning statement,” the former state legislator added.
“I think this kind of statement is a slap in the face of those families and those individuals that go the extra mile to succeed and some of them have opportunities that others don’t, as occurs in the white community.”
During a board meeting earlier this week, others on the panel urged opponents to wake up.
“There are so many examples of systemic racism in our society. If we don’t believe that, we have our heads in the sand,” Reggie Wilkinson, of Columbus and former director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, told his colleagues, noting that there are more Black males in prison than enrolled in college.
Following nearly three hours of debate that continued past 11 p.m. Tuesday, the board by a vote of 12-5 approved the resolution condemning hate speech and racism in schools, directing the Department of Education to review state curriculum models and tests for racial bias, and requiring bias training for employees and contractors of the state agency.
It also “strongly recommends that all Ohio school districts begin a reflection and internal examination of their own involving teachers, parents, students and community to review curriculum; hiring practices; discipline strategies, suspension and expulsions; classroom resources including text books; and professional development.”
Opponents said the proposal was rushed and urged further study.
Board member Lisa Woods of Medina said it should be referred to committee “to justify and research assertions made in the resolution. Getting it right is more important than rushing to judgment.” It’s important “that conclusions are supported by fact.”
Terms like “hate speech,” “white supremacy,” and “implicit bias … these are serious but unproven accusations,” she said.
“Ohio has never had a systemic of racism … we are enlightened.”
Supporters said they seek to promote change and healing by acknowledging racism exists.
Linda Haycock, a board member from Lima, said “resolutions like this will lay the foundation for moving our society forward without systemic racism. Recognizing white privilege is a vital first step in coming together in unity and love.”
Sarah Fowler Arthur, a board member from Geneva, said the resolution has “aspirational goals” but she has received many letters from constituents about the language.
The resolution by board President Laura Kohler follows the May 25 killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, while in the custody of Minneapolis police, igniting protests in Ohio and across the country.
“I know people want to make a strong statement here but I think it is wrongheaded. Healing and moving things in the right direction aren’t helped by confrontation, burning down buildings, destroying property, destroying businesses and this kind of thing feeds into that kind of thinking,” Hagan said after the meeting.