Community Calls for Action After Racially Charged Incident at School

Posted on:

< < Back to
Rose Butcher (center) talks about her son’s suspension from school while her husband David Butcher (right) listens during the Athens City School District Board meeting on April 19, 2018.

Thursday night’s Athens City School District Board meeting included a call to action from community members to create a culture of education around racism after a recent incident at Athens High School.

Parents and community members expressed their concern with the recent suspension of Isaiah Butcher, a black student who was involved in a fight with a white student who reportedly hurled racial slurs and objects at him earlier this week.

An investigation into the fight between Butcher, a sophomore, and an unidentified student is still ongoing. But that did not stop Isaiah’s parents Rose and David Butcher from speaking about the altercation to the board members.

“It was race based,” Rose Butcher said. “He was called the N-word. He was told to go back to the country he came from. He had stuff thrown at him and he was assaulted not once but three times, as the video shows, that we are in possession of…A staff member at this school detained our son and not the aggressor. Even though kids were telling her Isaiah was not the one that started it. Our son had to sit in the office till the end of the day. Our son got suspended along with the aggressor. [Isaiah] is only back in school because I notified the superintendent.”

David Butcher told the board this is not the first time his son has experienced discrimination based on race in the school system. And he said that he is tired of what he perceives as a lack of response from the schools.

“I won’t be silent any more,” Butcher said. “When I see injustice I will call you out in public, when I see injustice I will call you out on social media, when I see injustice I will call you out in media…This is the United States of America and my family are tax-paying naturalized citizens of America. The very nation my grandfathers, my father, my uncles defended during war. I have just one question for the school board. How can we ever expect to be a united America if the words and actions of our citizens continue to divide?”

Dr. Jennifaye Brown, an Ohio University professor speaks at the Athens City School Board meeting on April 19, 2018.

The Community’s Call For Action

Community members of all racial backgrounds attended Thursday’s meeting in support of the Butchers.

Gavin Thompson, an Athens High School graduate and close family friend with the Butcher’s, said his own high school experience was not much different than Isaiah’s.

“I graduated in 1999, like I said, it’s 18 years down the road and it’s still happening,” he said. “It really doesn’t make sense, I don’t really know what to say for a solution because I’m living it and I’m still here.”

Other community members did offer solutions to the board in order to prevent future incidents from happening to minority students.

Jennifaye Brown, a professor at Ohio University, said education on diversity and implicit bias should begin at a much younger age.

“It’s more so than race,” she said. “It’s about socioeconomic status and how we treat poor rural white people from Appalachia just because they’re poor and they’re from Appalachia. I would like to see a program, a curriculum. And it has to start young, before you even get to high school.”

What’s Next for The Butchers

The Butchers have filed an informal complaint and are working with the school. They say they’re willing to do whatever they can to get to the root of the issue.

“We’re trying to educate the school. We’re trying to educate children,” Rose Butcher said. “We’re not only here to just help our son we want to help everybody’s sons, everybody’s daughters, who are having this issue. Whether you’re black, white, disabled, if there is an injustice, it’s just an injustice.”

“This is a very teachable moment and this isn’t just an issue out of Athens, it’s every district surrounding Athens,” David Butcher added.

What’s Next for The Athens School Board

Athens City Schools District Superintendent Tom Gibbs appreciated that Isaiah’s mother called him and brought the situation to his attention. Because the investigation is still ongoing, he couldn’t go into detail about it. But he did express his feelings of sadness.

“I want to be honest with you, I cried today. I was so upset by this, I cried today,” Gibbs said. “This should not be happening and certainly should not be happening in Athens, Ohio.”

Gibbs is actively working with board members on the Facility Master Plan and a proposed levy that –if passed– will merge the elementary schools. Gibbs said he believes it will merge children of diverse backgrounds, too. And the more they interact with each other, the more they will understand each other.

“We segregate our students more than practically any district I’ve ever worked in my life,” he said. “We do that by socioeconomic status, we do that by race and ethnicity, by just doing things like having [English Language Learners] programming all in one building. Or assigning students to ‘community schools’ thinking that that’s a better solution. The board is committed to integrating our student population at a younger age.”

Moving forward, Gibbs wants the immediate plan to include monitoring the students involved in this situation.

As for a plan around diversity in general, Gibbs says the district will examine what it can do to create a more inclusive culture in the school system.