Today- we confirmed that district leadership, at the direction of Superintendent Larry Hook, approved painting over the student-painted diversity and inclusion mural at Nagel. We are told from a reliable source who spoke with Superintendent Hook, that he admitted responsibility for painting over the mural as well as responsibility for the initial act to hide the mural with a banner.
This action appears to have been taken without a single effort of transparency toward the community, acknowledgment of the many parents that requested meetings, students that sent emails and residents that left voicemail recordings asking for the mural to remain visible.
A statement that the action taken by Mr. Hook and encouraged by the board negatively impacts students doesn’t go far enough - and many feel that this act by the leadership is a betrayal. Many have conveyed to us that they feel compelled to take action to share their frustration with the dismal direction district leadership has taken, since the “Culture of Kindness” resolution was first passed as the central tenet and vision of the “4 for Forest Hills” board members.
Initially, the district told us that the location choice for the banner to promote the new district culture initiative was selected by the consulting company because it was a high traffic area and the fact that it covered the diversity mural was simply a careless mistake that they did not believe would have such an impact. The also said that they also did not feel compelled to correct the mistake. Administrators claimed they would find other ways to memorialize the mural, and we believed they had genuine intent to do so.
This past summer, a well-known and well-liked student mural promoting inclusion was covered by a new banner as part of a culture/branding initiative by Forest Hills.
Community awareness of the action occurred around the time of the 2023-2024 Nagel Open House, and since that time, members of our group have been advocating for the relocation of the banner to allow the student-painted artwork to remain as a symbol of acceptance for all Nagel students.
Today, students have informed us that when they arrived to Nagel this morning, the banner had been removed (as seen below) in what appears to be an unauthorized manner.
Advocate FHSD leadership and members categorically do not condone the destruction of school property at any time, for any reason. At the same time, it is a reasonable and logical conclusion that the act to hide the mural has clearly impacted students, some very personally.
While we acknowledge aggression and physical acts are not the best way to resolve issues, it is clear that the decision to cover the mural will continue to negatively affect students, and there exists a very simple solution - listening to the students asking to allow the inclusive mural to remain visible.
Students in Turpin's GSA independently wrote the district administration, asking for the mural to be moved further signaling the impact to them personally, as well as the apparent miscalculation of the administration regarding potential negative impact to students.
We will continue to encourage district administrators to replace the banner on a different wall and insist they do not cover up this student artwork that is clearly meaningful to many.
If you are so inclined, we suggest an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com to express your thoughts on allowing the mural to remain uncovered, and finding another location for the culture initiative's vinyl banner.
We have also heard that other actions may have been taken today that negatively affect students. We do not yet have evidence to support the claims, so we also ask here: if your student has been asked by a staff member, administrator or board member to remove an article of clothing, sticker, pin, button or keychain because it demonstrates support for one of these celebrated communities shown in the mural by a staff member, administrator or board member, please reach out to us at AdvocateFHSD@gmail.com we would like to hear about the details of the incident.
As a group, Advocate FHSD supports inclusivity and acceptance of every student's personal identity, religion and community of origin – whether that identity is theirs alone or one shared by many, we encourage understanding and acceptance.
That support includes students’ expression of their identities in all legally-acceptable forms–including t-shirts, stickers or other symbols that promote a culture of belonging and, we are committed to continue to respectfully advocate on behalf of a welcoming, warm and accepting culture for all of our community's students and staff.
The “Culture of Kindness” resolution was dictated by an unelected community member, “typed” and introduced by board member Jonas, and passed by a majority (not unanimous) vote. We were all taken by surprise and a little frightened about what it meant for our students. Especially since many of the board members do not appear to have a vested interest in the success of our schools, or students attending the Forest Hills School District (FHSD) themselves, and they seem preoccupied with the “culture war” topic du jour.
As FHSD parents, one thing that we have kept an eye on in the wake of the resolution is the protection of our student’s first amendment rights. For instance, in the case of the student-led walkout over the cancellation of Diversity Day, a portion of students left Turpin and Anderson high schools quietly without disrupting class and exercised their right to peaceful assembly. Since art is a form of speech, we also kept an eye on the murals throughout the buildings. In particular, the Nagel mural about diversity that was painted (with permission) by students has become a symbol of belonging to future students in the years to come.
The diversity mural has been covered by a large banner before the start of the 2023-24 school year to the dismay of some parents and students. We have been told by school leadership that banners have been installed as part of an overall strategy to create a culture where staff can be more proactive, less reactive, and more … inclusive.
Nagel students arriving to the open house tonight were stunned to discover that the student-painted inclusive mural celebrating the diverse authenticity that our students represent has been hidden behind a black tarp with the simple words, "Honest Connections". Several parents received shocked texts like the one shown here as students learned of the change.
In June of 2022, a reliable source suggested that the new board members stated their intentions to pass the Culture of Kindness resolution and use that as a basis to remove the student-created mural from the view of Nagel students and staff. The resolution, passed by the Republican-endorsed school board members Bibb, Jonas, and Hausfeld resulted in an on-going legal battle and depositions of several board members and Superintendent Hook (Depositions can be found here for Jonas, Rasmussen, and Hook) and a former student writing a scathing Op-Ed in the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Rules suggest the board needs to take an open vote to remove the mural, but in the absence of this, a principal may make the decision under the category of "routine maintenance" with the support of the Superintendent and board. Advocate FHSD has submitted a public records request to understand the source of the decision and determine if any link to the Culture of Kindness effort exists.
Students leaving the Open House were informally asked about their feelings on the change, and several stated they were disappointed, and one stated "it felt like a shock, like that it's not okay to celebrate who we are here. Why would they hide something that lets people feel its okay to be themselves here?"
From a timing perspective, wherever this decision came from, it is incredibly poor; in relation to the start of school and open houses & the shock that students would feel, not to mention the potential impact on active campaigns for open board seats. Could this decision possibly drive voter enthusiasm & stronger voter turnout for candidates running on a platform of inclusivity for all students?
If the members of the administration were responsible, this is a significant misstep with regard to the community relationship, and we've heard from a number of teachers that no communication to staff was initiated, either. With a board meeting scheduled for August 16th, why not announce the intent to change, or take a vote by the board to ensure transparency and protect the community from speculation and overreaction and allow parents to prepare students for the change?
Banners similar to the one shown are placed in all stairwells which indicates some consistency, and other murals not originally targeted by the "4 for Forest Hills" that drove less controversy are still visible. Some may appreciate that the decision to hide the mural with a large printed banner suggests they had time to order the sign in advance, why not take that time to communicate the intent in advance at the upcoming board meeting and to staff as well?
We will continue to update the blog as more information becomes available, and evidence of the origins of the decision are provided.
As a side note, Advocate FHSD will be creating & donating 1000 free stickers of the mural in honor of the student art and making the stickers available for students to add to binders, water bottles, notebooks and lunch containers should they want one to remind themselves and others that in this community, no matter your race, gender, religion or sexual orientation there are more people that celebrate our community's diversity than those that do not. Please stay tuned, we'll be digging in to see where the origin of the decision lies, and why no communication of the change was provided to the community in advance.
It's official ... we now have our list of 2023 school board candidates for the Forest Hills School District (FHSD). They've turned in their petitions and while one candidate is still waiting to have his signatures confirmed, it is likely district residents will see these names on the ballot for FHSD school board on November 7th, 2023. While Advocate FHSD does not endorse candidates, we are committed to presenting election information as quickly and as accurately as possible.
Candidates for the board
Stay tuned for more updates as the campaign unfolds.
The views and opinions expressed by individuals and entities on this blog are their own and do not reflect the views or positions of AdvocateFHSD.org.
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