Cincinnati area shaken by racial taunts, insults in schools

Some schools have been plagued this winter by outbreaks of racism in and around a city that's been revitalized in recent years following racial violence.

From a middle-school teacher's warning to a black student that he could get lynched to derogatory chants by students at a high school basketball game, racial issues have triggered an outpouring of discussion in the Cincinnati area.

But Mina Jefferson, an attorney and associate dean of the University of Cincinnati law school, said that while white people in Cincinnati voice pride about racial progress, racially offensive attitudes had never really gone away; they're just getting fresh attention the past few weeks.

"It is a stark and unpleasant reality check," said Jefferson, who is black. "The behavior has been there."

Playing basketball for St. Xavier High School, her son was subjected in a Feb. 2 game with Catholic-school rival Cincinnati Elder to chants of racial stereotypes, such as that he was on welfare or couldn't read. He's headed this fall to Dartmouth, an Ivy League school.

Meanwhile, a teammate whose mother is Asian was showered with "P.F. Chang's!" chants at Elder.

Cincinnati Roman Catholic Archbishop Dennis Schnurr expressed his "deep dismay" and said he contacted Elder's principal to make sure the behavior was responded to with "urgency and seriousness." Since then, Principal Kurt Ruffing has issued public apologies, had speakers visit to talk about race and leadership and took a delegation of Elder students to St. Xavier to apologize on behalf of the school.

Ruffing said students have been disciplined, new rules are in place to control cheers, and that the school is treating it as a "learning and growing experience."

There have been racial issues spotlighted in at least two nearby suburban districts so far this year.

In Mason, Tanisha Agee-Bell spoke out in a school board meeting, saying her 13-year-old son's teacher told him his classmates would form a mob and "want to lynch you" if he didn't stay on task. The teacher was ordered to undergo cultural training and was put on administrative leave as the superintendent sent out a public letter of apology.

At Kings Schools, a board member announced his resignation after acknowledging that his son was on a youth basketball team that was booted out of a recreational league after complaints about sexually suggestive and racially offensive player jerseys. One said: "Knee Grow."

There have also been racist insults posted on social media by Mason students.

"We have seen an uptick in the number of racially and culturally insensitive comments in our schools and our community," Mason Schools spokeswoman Tracey Carson wrote in a letter to parents. "As a district, we want to be very clear. We are not OK normalizing racial slurs. Anyone who does so faces disciplinary action."

Jefferson is among many locally who say adults must share blame for leaving "unchecked" racist behaviors in a city that's gotten favorable national attention for police reforms and urban renewal after 2001 rioting. Mike Moroski, a Cincinnati Public Schools board member, wrote for The Enquirer that "kids need to see adults enraged by racism." He said the public schools are working on a student code of conduct for athletics and other events aimed at things such as "racist jeering."

St. Xavier Principal Terrence Tyrrell said he'll press at the next meeting of Catholic schools officials for policy actions aimed at displays of racism.

"I think these things probably have always been going on," Tyrrell said, but that institutions and individuals "are more willing to step up now and say that's wrong ... We're just not willing to accept this anymore, and that's a good thing."


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