Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes ofwebsite accessibilityOlympia parent claims elementary school student club promotes segregation | KOMO
Close Alert

Olympia parent claims elementary school student club promotes segregation

The front of Centennial Elementary School in Olympia. (KOMO)
The front of Centennial Elementary School in Olympia. (KOMO)
Facebook Share IconTwitter Share IconEmail Share Icon
Comment bubble

A student club at an Olympia elementary school that supports BIPOC ( Black, Indigenous, and people of color) children has sparked backlash. One woman goes as far as calling it segregation, claiming it separates her son from his friends, even though he would want to join as an ally.

“My son came home and said that they came into the classes, and they were promoting this and talked it up to the students, but then he found out that since he was white, he wasn’t able to participate,” Centennial Elementary School parent Jessica Juergens told KOMO News. “They have their friends that they want to play with at lunch, and a fourth or fifth grader can’t understand why they can’t play with their friends.”

One anonymous parent provided an email exchange with principal Shannon Ritter, describing the fifth-grade group as one that meets weekly during lunch to hang out, talk about their experiences, and build connections and confidence. The note adds that it is limited to BIPOC students.

“The student BIPOC group is focused on providing a safe space for students of color who have historically been excluded or marginalized. This group is aligned with the equity work of the District,” the email reads. “Our district continues to be committed to providing opportunities of support to our BIPOC students. Programs like this were first launched across the district last year.”

Juergens added she is worried about retaliation by speaking out but wants the district to act.

“I feel like it’s promoting segregation at our schools, and we’ve moved away from that,” she added.

Others are stressing the importance of having this club as a safe space for minority students. One parent told KOMO News she believes these segregation claims are unfounded.

“I think the school is doing a really good job of including everybody, whatever gender, race, orientation that they are,” said the parent who wanted to stay anonymous. “My kids certainly feel comfortable here.”

The state superintendent sent a statement explaining that their office does not provide guidance about affinity groups.

“With that being said, if a student felt that they were being discriminated against because they were being excluded from an opportunity or space at school because of their race, the student could file a complaint, and we would be likely to provide technical assistance to the school to clarify that they should not exclude students who wish to participate,” wrote an OSPI spokesperson.

A district spokesperson provided a statement to KOMO on Monday that can be read in its entirety below:

"The purpose of the districtwide OSD Mentor Program is to provide leadership and mentoring opportunities for students with an emphasis on historically underrepresented populations including students of color and those impacted by poverty. Staff work with students to determine their goals and needs by building relationships and creating spaces for students to share experiences which informs how the program is built.

The Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) Mentor Group at Centennial Elementary School, and some other schools, is an outgrowth of this districtwide effort. It serves students by providing opportunities for peer interaction and a space for social, emotional and academic support. This space allows for more honest and open conversations about differences and identity and how it impacts one’s experiences in school. It is designed to be a student-led group facilitated by an adviser to plan for leadership opportunities.

Groups like this are important for elevating voices and are instrumental in helping our district design a responsive educational experience that meets the needs of all students. At the same time, we recognize that they cannot be exclusionary. Moving forward, we will ensure that school leadership and staff are specific about the purpose of these groups, while simultaneously removing any exclusions to participation.

You also asked about the email.

Comment bubble

Yes, I can confirm that Principal Ritter sent the email you attached to your email request for comment."

Loading ...