Community demands change from Vinton County Board of Education following August attack

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McARTHUR, Ohio (WOUB) – The Vinton County Board of Education faced community outrage during Tuesday’s monthly meeting, stemming from the district’s lack of public response to the August attack of a Black freshman student by white students at Vinton County High School.

Aric Bledsoe, the father of the student, said that on Aug. 23, his 15-year-old daughter was verbally harassed twice by a fellow female student, in an attempt to bait her into a physical altercation. Bledsoe said that harassment included racial slurs. During lunch, his daughter was then followed by at least four other students into the bathroom where she was physically beaten by one of the students while others recorded the attack on their phones. 

The video was shared on social media. 

Bledsoe said the school failed to notify him of the attack and that his family has experienced similar failures from the district to act on previous harassment that his daughter has faced. Vinton County Local Schools is a predominately white district and Bledsoe said his daughter has been the subject of harassment because of the color of her skin, including other students cutting her hair and calling her racial slurs. 

A Facebook post from Bledsoe about the attack in August and the district’s lack of notification has been shared by over 1,000 people. More than 50 community members attended Tuesday’s meeting, which was relocated in advance to the middle school cafetorium to accommodate the large crowd. 

Aric Bledsoe stands behind a podium and speaks into a microphone.
Aric Bledsoe addresses the Vinton County Board of Education during its monthly meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. [Kaitlin Thorne | WOUB]
Superintendent Rick Brooks addressed the crowd prior to the public participation portion of the meeting. 

“There’s a protocol we must follow,” Brooks said. “Matters related to student discipline and incidents involving minors are confidential. In respect to all parties involved, the district will not comment on allegations or accusations this evening. We will listen during public participation and continue our commitment to continuous improvements.”

Abstaining from response to public comment is standard practice among elected boards, as public participation time is seen as the opportunity for the public to voice its opinion.

Lynda McKendree, a 1991 graduate of Vinton County Local Schools, and aunt of the student who was attacked, flew from Houston, Texas, to share her statement with the board. 

She said she believes her niece is the victim of a hate crime and is disappointed by the lack of action by the district, which has not confirmed what discipline has been decided for any of those involved in the attack.

McKendree said her niece wakes up anxious to go to school each day, saying that she knows “her safety is not guaranteed.”

“She deals with this every single day and it’s scary, and I appreciate that people are saying that it’s going to change but it has to change now. I don’t want this to happen again,” McKendree said.

Bledsoe spoke to the board on behalf of his daughter and reminded the board of the pattern that they’ve seen in the district. 

When his daughter was in the 7th grade he had a meeting with Brooks after a student cut off his daughter’s braids in class while calling her a racial slur. 

“In that meeting their answer was to add more policies, more programs. You want to know what was done? Nothing. Four days after that meeting she was called the n-word in class, in front of the teacher. You want to know what was done? Nothing. Was he sent to the principal? No. The teacher said, ‘I don’t’ want to hear that ever again come out of your mouth,’” Bledsoe said. 

Bledsoe told the board that they failed his daughter, and that while she is in school she is in their care and “supposed to be safe,” but she wasn’t. 

Bledsoe’s daughter suffered a concussion, a bone bruise on her nose and a cut lip, though it could have been much worse as the 15-year-old girl has had medical complications since she was born, including rib abnormalities on her left side. 

“She has no ribs that protect her heart. She’s not allowed to have any kind of impact. That girl held her on the ground and beat her. It’s one punch. One kick. I could’ve been at a funeral home instead of a school board meeting,” Bledsoe said.

While board members are supposed to remain silent during the public participation time, Board Member Laura Martin spoke up after Bledsoe’s speech. 

“Mr. Brooks, you did not handle this right and Mr. Kirkpatrick (Vinton County High School assistant principal) didn’t either. I know nothing. I’m part of the board and we’ve heard no updates since the 29th,” Martin said. 

Martin said that on Aug. 29 she emailed Brooks to request an update. He replied to all members of the board that same day, stating that he would update them once he spoke with law enforcement. She said she has not received any further updates and learned details of the incident from social media, The Scioto Valley Guardian and WOUB Public Media. 

Martin sent three more emails to Brooks and said that she still received no further contact. 

Board Member Scarlet Newton verified the board’s lack of information about the attack.

“We as a board don’t even know what punishment was handed out to this child,” she said. 

Community member Nicki Martin shared her family’s story with the crowd. Her oldest child graduated from Vinton County High School in 2019. Her younger daughter went to a private middle school and will be attending an online high school rather than attending Vinton. 

“Having a girl go through this school was extremely difficult. I swore I’d never have another daughter go through here,” Nicki Martin said, going on to explain that her older daughter dealt with anxiety and depression related to how she was treated within the schools. She eventually overdosed in her junior year. 

“I spent seven days in the children’s psych ward with my daughter and I had to sit beside her bed not knowing what’s going to happen when we get out of here,” she said.

Nicki Martin said her daughter, who is now a student at Ohio University, has “blossomed”, but that her experience at Vinton County High School changed her. She doesn’t want the same thing to happen to her youngest. 

Speaking to the board directly, Nicki Martin said she was “disgusted” when she heard about what happened to Bledsoe’s daughter, whom she babysat when she was younger. 

“When you’re sitting there in the ER with your daughter because she has a concussion or you’re sitting there for seven days in the psych ward, then maybe you’ll realize that this has got to stop,” she said. 

Board Member Mary Anne Hale said the board has to “stand together and do something” in order to make this issue stop. She also personally apologized to Bledsoe, his daughter, and their whole family. 

Laura Martin made a motion to hold an emergency board meeting to discuss immediate steps to address the problem of bullying and safety in the schools. The emergency meeting will be held on Thursday, Sept. 22, at 7 p.m. at Central Elementary School.