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Oyster River School District to focus on race relations after bus incident

Union Leader Correspondent

September 13. 2017 11:56PM

DURHAM — Three parents spoke up about the state of race relations in the Oyster River Cooperative School District Wednesday night.

This comes after an elementary school student riding from Mast Way School in Lee to his home in Durham was assaulted on a bus Sept. 1 because of his race, according to officials. Oyster River School District educates elementary school students from Durham, Madbury and Lee.

The 7-year-old biracial boy was attacked by a male student who was sat next to him on the bus by a school monitor, school officials said.

The male student, whose age has not been revealed, complained and taunted the other student with racial comments, according to officials.

Superintendent James Morse and officials sent out a news release about the issue Tuesday afternoon. Parents at Wednesday’s school board meeting were upset they were not notified first.

Brenda Warden said her son has experienced similar instances of bullying based on race.

“My son has experienced this type of shameful behavior. This is not a one-off incident,” Warden said during public comments.

Ruth Sample said she is concerned about the way the recent events were handled by administrators. She said if the students were adults, police would consider the incident a crime.

“No student of color will feel safe in our district if they know this is going on,” Sample said.

Morse said he has met with administrators to talk about the issues they have seen and heard. He said the district will begin handling race-related incidents at the central office instead of at individual schools.

“We’ll be putting procedures in place to make sure there is a process for that reporting,” Morse said.

Morse said the all students in the district will receive diversity training, and said the community must be involved.

“This issue cannot stand. This is something we cannot sweep under the rug, nor will we,” Morse said. “Even though this happened between two very young students, we need to engage the entire community.”

The chair of the Oyster River Cooperative School District said that people throughout the United States need to think about how to better approach racial divides.

Thomas Newkirk said the greater Durham community is not alone in facing these issues.

“In terms of our country as a whole, we have to address this. We have to think through it,” Newkirk said.

At Mast Way School Wednesday afternoon, mothers picking up their children were asked how they approach tolerance and diversity issues at home. Each refused to speak to the press, saying they did not have time for an interview.

Todd Selig, Durham’s town administrator, said he teaches his children, who are now in the local middle school, to treat people like they want to be treated and to speak up if they witness bad behavior.

Selig described the incident as “very unfortunate” but said it can be used as a learning opportunity for both students and parents, who are responsible for being good role models for kids.

“Sometimes young children make poor decisions and are in need of adult guidance,” Selig said. “I think there’s an important place for parents in this conversation. Parents need to talk to their kids about diversity.”

Selig said he has lived in Durham for 17 years, and considers it a welcoming community. He said school administrators are doing the right thing by taking a proactive approach to the incident, and underlying racial issues.

This incident comes as the University of New Hampshire community works to improve race relations and build a more diverse campus in Durham. Last week, the Presidential Task Force on Campus Climate released an interim report on developing and sustaining inclusive excellence while maintaining a safe, healthy and equitable campus community.

General News Manchester

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