EducationThe Putnam Examiner

Carmel Parents Address Board of Ed About Racist TikTok Video

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By Louise Rose Grant

Carmel residents are demanding action from the Board of Education to address the racist TikTok rant that has gripped the community.

Parents spoke out at a meeting for nearly two hours about the video, which was posted by Carmel High School students.

On Feb. 15, the seven-member Board of Education announced three high school students were being disciplined for creating fake, inappropriate videos using artificial intelligence and impersonating different members of the district administration and the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department.

The board stated at the time the involved students were being dealt with in accordance with the district’s Code of Conduct.

“The Board of Education is committed, now more than ever, to ensuring that our programs, our actions, and our district commit to our continued work toward a fully inclusive school community – one where all voices are heard and where all perspectives matter,” the board stated. “We reaffirm our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in our work and the District’s K-12 programs, and we urge our school community and the community at large to join in this effort, knowing that it will create a path to a better society and a better future. We do not tolerate discrimination, harassment or racism, either in our programs, or from the members of our district.”

On March 21, a crowd of about 80 gathered on the Putnam courthouse steps in protest ahead of a scheduled Board of Education meeting. They then confronted the board.

Longtime resident Abigail Santana, a graduate of Carmel schools, and now a parent of a middle schooler, said she has been trying to bring about change in how the district deals with racism and discrimination for more than 20 years.

“I am frustrated, angry and I am sad that some of our kids don’t feel safe in our schools,” Santana said. “We have tried over the years to bring about change, and this time we have a group of  parents and community members, who do not have children in school, are joining together and we are not going to give up.”

“We would have never found out about this video had it not been leaked,” Santana added. “This was not a video of kids just being kids.”

While the board assured the crowd of parents their concerns were heard, some parents were disappointed that no plans or strategies were offered to help students that have been allegedly victimized by racism and or discrimination by fellow students, teachers, administrators and staff.

Trustee John Curzio II said he knows words can be hollow, but stressed the board was committed to “fixing this.”

“We are going to work very diligently to accomplish that,” he said.

Board President Debra Heitman-Cayea acknowledged the pain of the parents who lined the walls of the meeting room, waiting patiently for an opportunity to speak on the issue.

“We are going to try to help the situation, so the more suggestions we get that we can process, that’s what we are here for,” she said.

However, parents stressed how racism and discrimination in Carmel schools is not a new issue.

“I’m here to talk about what the district is not doing to protect Black and brown students,” said parent Jim Wise. “I think you’ll hear there’s a lot more going on.’’

Parent Kimberly Nieves said she has asked school and district administrators repeatedly for intervention for her teenager who has been targeted and bullied because of her gender identity. Nieves said she has offered suggestions such as mandatory school assemblies that offer information on diversity and inclusion.

But now Nieves is asking the board to take strong action in expelling the three students who created the video.

“That’s what we are asking for and we’re not going to stop until it happens,” she remarked.

Parent Pierre Claude believes board members were well aware of existing and seemingly unchecked  racism in the district.

“So, what we need to do here is stop it before it goes further,” Claude said. “It’s not like you guys don’t know what needs to happen. I don’t know why anyone is holding back on taking actions that need to be taken.”

Board Vice President Melissa Orser said she her own family has dealt with discrimination in the schools.

“I am a mom of a child who has been in your situation and had no safe place in this school and who has  left this school,” she said.

The Board of Education will hold its next public meeting on April 11.


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