Recent threats of violence at Johnston schools and the necessity for a director for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) were items students and parents addressed at Monday’s Johnston School Board meeting.
Multiple students reported hearing threats of violence and racial slurs in the hallways or being threatened themselves. Many speakers, students, and parents, also pointed to instances of guns being brought to school buildings as evidence of a worrying atmosphere.
Temeshia Bomato, a parent of a student at Summit Middle School, said her daughter had been threatened by another student at school.
“On Thursday, Sept. 8, my child who attends sixth grade at Summit Middle School was threatened by a student who said, ‘if I had a gun and a bullet, I’d shoot you,’” Bomato said. “Another student at Summit has openly threatened he will beat up anyone who is LGBTQ+ and has gone so far as to verbally accost teachers asking if they support LGBTQ+ people or if they’re homophobic.”
On Friday, parents were sent an email about a Johnston Middle School student bringing a gun to school in their backpack and showing it to other students on the bus. The district has instituted a clear bag policy for games at Dragon Stadium in response and police are investigating, according to the district.
No students were threatened but paired with some of the other violent threats, speakers said it wasn’t hard to imagine threats and action coming together.
As a result, speakers demanded more action from the district.
Lauren Wessling, a junior at Johnston High School and a member of the Community of Racial Equity (CORE) Johnston, said the evidence is clear that a new DEI director is needed for the district.
“That position was established because there was a dire need for it in the district before the equity audit was even on the table,” she said. “The evidence of a need for equity work in this district is right in front of you. So I’m asking you to do something about this obvious issue.”
Lauren said the school needs to fill the position soon and prioritize DEI work by having more than one person working in the department.
Previously, Louis Fountain, the former director of Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging, was on the administrative team and helped run the school’s initiatives to promote equity among students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ students.
The position was created in May 2021 and equity is a high-ranking part of Johnston’s strategic plan.
Fountain resigned on Aug. 26 without naming a specific reason. At the Aug. 29 school board meeting, the board announced the position wouldn’t immediately be refilled.
All positions in Johnston go through a reevaluation when someone resigns. Board President Katie Fiala said she wanted to wait until a diversity and equity audit was conducted by the district, which may not start until October at the earliest, according to timelines proposed by the audit company.
“We have a clear problem and it’s your responsibility to fix it,” Lauren continued. “So I’m demanding that after today’s meeting you make it a priority that you are working with and for minority and disadvantaged students in our district.”
“Nothing highlights the need for an audit and an equity director more than the recent threats of violence in the community,” said Anita Dinakar, a senior at Johnston High School and a member of CORE.
She said an environment where some students feel threatened and where some students feel like it’s okay to threaten others is not an inclusive one.
“Johnston students have shared their experiences and are suffering the consequences of the equity and inclusion issues in our schools,” Anita said. “It is past time that Johnston make changes to create a safe learning environment for everyone.”
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