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Education

'Diversity isn't political': Turpin High School students walkout on what would have been Diversity Day

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Cory Sharber
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WVXU
Hundreds of students at Turpin High School walked out on May 18, 2022 to express their opposition to the cancelation of Diversity Day.

More than 300 Turpin High School students participated in a walkout on Wednesday to protest the cancelation of Diversity Day earlier this month.

Students gathered at Heritage Universalist Unitarian Church, located right next to the high school, holding signs calling for promotion of diversity within the Forest Hills School District and to empower students.

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Cory Sharber
/
WVXU
The walkout occurred at Heritage Universalist Unitarian Church on May 18, 2022 adjacent to Turpin High School. Students held signs and chanted, "Do better Forest Hills."

The walkouts occurred on the scheduled date for Diversity Day, May 18.

For several years, Diversity Day has been held in the district — which is 90% white — to highlight cultural and racial issues for junior and senior students. But earlier this month, the FHSD school board voted 4-0 to put the event on hold, stating that the event would no longer happen during school hours, use school resources or be paid for by taxpayers. Then, the school district announced its cancelation.

"At this time, FHSD staff have determined they will not be able to organize an event that meets the newly instituted board expectations before the end of the school year, so it will not be rescheduled for this year," Forest Hill School District Communications Coordinator Josh Bazan said in a statement.

Board member Leslie Rasmussen abstained from voting on the issue, saying board members "interfered" with the event citing "critical race theory and social justice" as their reasons for its postponement.

Four of the board's newly elected members ran together on a platform opposing critical race theory.

Students react

On the day Diversity Day was supposed to be held, multiple students passed a megaphone to each other to give speeches and to lead chants. Claire Mengel is a senior at Turpin High School. They thanked the community for the support it's provided students, but expressed disappointment the walkout had to take place because the "(school) board has failed us."

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Cory Sharber
/
WVXU
Turpin High School senior Claire Mengel led the walkout on May 18, 2022. They will be will be addressing the U.S. Congressional Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties on Thursday to discuss "ongoing efforts to prohibit discussion in K-12 classrooms about American history, race, and LGBTQ+ issues."

"We should not be here because the board should be doing their jobs and the fact that we're here is incredible, but it is also disappointing because we should be in school doing what we're supposed to do as kids," Mengel said.

Johnny Wettengel is also a student at Turpin High School. He thanked the students for making their voices heard and to show the school board that they're "doing a bad job" at representing students.

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Cory Sharber
/
WVXU
Turpin High School student Johnny Wettengel said the Forest Hills school board is "doing a bad job" at representing the students during a walkout on May 18, 2022.

"We are here, all of us, to show them that we support diversity in our school district," Wettengel said. "We are here to show them that we won't just sit down and let them cancel events that matter to us. We are here to show them that diversity isn't political, it's human."

Mengel said the event's cancelation adds another level of stress to a district dealing with a "mental health crisis," but the community's support has helped during a tough time for students.

"Even though the board has power in this situation, the community is standing together and there is so much more support than I've seen anything negative about this," Mengel said.

On Thursday, Mengel will be addressing the U.S. Congressional Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. The hearing will focus on "the ongoing efforts to prohibit discussion in K-12 classrooms about American history, race, and LGBTQ+ issues, and to punish teachers who violate vague and discriminatory state laws by discussing these topics."