Email described fifth-grade group as weekly lunchtime hang out exclusive only to BIPOC students in order to provide them with ‘safe space.’
‘I feel like it’s promoting segregation at our schools, and we’ve moved away from that,’ concerned mother stated.
A club at an elementary school in Olympia, Washington, is being accused of racial discrimination after it barred a white student from joining due to his skin color.
The mother of a Centennial Elementary School student says she was shocked when she recently learned her son was excluded from joining a club supporting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) students.
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Mom Jessica Juergens told KOMO News by not allowing him to participate the school club was being racially prejudiced against her white son, who would have joined 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,” the mom, 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.”
“I feel like it’s promoting segregation at our schools, and we’ve moved away from that,” the concerned mother added.
An email obtained by KOMO News distributed by school principal Shannon Ritter described the fifth-grade group as a weekly lunchtime hang out exclusive only to BIPOC students in order to provide them with a “safe space.”
“At this time, the group is limited to students who identify as BIPOC,” the letter addressed from the Principal Ritter stated.
A statement from a district spokesperson to KOMO News appeared to confirm the “mentor program” was districtwide and sanctioned by the district.
“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.
Yes, I can confirm that Principal Ritter sent the email you attached to your email request for comment.”
Addressing the parent’s complaint, a spokesperson for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, which oversees K-12 public education in Washington, said there’s no guidance on “affinity groups,” but that a student who feels segregated 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.”