MENTOR, Ohio — More than 100 students walked out of Mentor High School on Monday morning, accusing school administrators of not doing enough to address allegations of bullying, racism, and assault. Stressing that Mentor schools take reports of bullying, racism, and harassment extremely seriously, district officials said in a statement that the high school’s administrative team will follow up with students to address their concerns in hopes of continued, productive conversations in the future.
The student-led protest materialized quickly over the weekend and was primarily organized over social media. Protest organizers encouraged students that were victims of alleged bullying incidents and racist remarks to speak of their experiences. Protest organizers also solicited testimony from past and current students wanting to remain anonymous.
In a joint statement, Superintendent William Porter and Mentor HS Principal Jason Crowe said they understood the students’ right to peaceful protest but they did not support the idea of students walking out of class in order to do so. Additionally, Porter and Crowe said that when the district does determine an incident of bullying, harassment or racism did, in fact, occur, the information cannot be shared publicly because of student privacy laws. Incidents that rise to a level of criminality are immediately forwarded to Mentor police or Lake County Job and Family Services.
Co-organizers of the protest as well as their parents asserted the opposite and, instead, said the district has been slow to respond to incidents. Tiffany and James Colon, said their son Chance as well as his older sibling have frequently been the targets of racist remarks made by other students.
“The school district is not issuing [proper consequences]. Children need to learn. They learn by doing. They learn by receiving consequences. Those consequences aren’t occurring,” Tiffany Colon said. “The reason [students] decided to disrupt the classroom is because these comments are disruptive to the school environment; administrators not giving out consequences is disruptive.”
An alleged incident on Friday is what prompted the protests, causing frustration to spill over, students said. According to multiple students and two parents, a student in a seniors-only lounge located in the school used a racial epithet. That student’s punishment was not sufficient, protesters said. The statement from Mentor Schools did not address Friday’s alleged incident.
The statement from Mentor Schools reads:
“Providing a safe learning environment where students can grow academically, socially and emotionally is our number one priority in Mentor Schools. We are striving to cultivate an environment where each student feels valued and safe in school. Our team heard the concerns and accusations that were shared by approximately 150 students this morning as they formed a peaceful protest outside of the high school. The high school administrative team will follow up with students to address the serious concerns they shared with us today.
We understand our students’ right to protest peacefully, but we do not support the idea of students walking out of school to do so. We would like to continue this conversation with our students in a productive manner. We do take all reports of bullying, assault, harassment, and racism extremely seriously and all reports are thoroughly investigated by our team. We believe the majority of our students make good choices and treat others respectfully, but at times some students make poor decisions. When this occurs, appropriate disciplinary action is taken and necessary support services are put in place for our students, though that information cannot be shared publicly due to student privacy laws. Often when we are investigating accusations, the Mentor Police Department and/or Lake County Job and Family Services are involved. If an offense rises to a criminal level, along with school discipline, students may face criminal charges through the Mentor Police, which is handled through the court system.
Rather than walking out, we encourage students to work with us to promote positive change in our school. Our doors are always open to students, staff and parents. Please join us in continuing to encourage children to report their concerns to a trusted adult so we can address them quickly. We also have anonymous reporting sources available as well via our 24/7 crisis hotline at 974-HOME or through Securely for students. We can assure you the safety of our students is our number one priority here at Mentor High School.”