OWOSSO — Owosso Public Schools Board of Education President Tim Jenc resigned last week after he shared a racially insensitive social media post on his personal Facebook account, but according to a group of community stakeholders, further action needs to be taken by the district to address racism and discrimination.
Owosso for Change, a group primarily comprised of Owosso High School graduates and parents, among other community members, is currently circulating an online petition calling upon the district to make several changes to address racism, white supremacy, white privilege and the “myriad ways they intersect to create power imbalances, both in Owosso and beyond.”
To date, the online petition — launched Monday — has gained more than 400 signatures from current and former students, parents and area residents.
“I worked on this process with the Owosso for Change team because I want students to feel safe in school,” Lindsey Bacigal, a 2013 graduate of Owosso High School and Owosso for Change member, said Wednesday via email. “This goes beyond physical safety, as we also need to recognize that discrimination takes a toll on mental and emotional health as well. Everyone should feel safe in their school and be in an environment that encourages them to express themselves and to be who they are, without fear of discrimination from their peers, teachers, or administrators.
“As a school system, particularly one made up of predominantly white students, it is the duty of OPS to educate its students and staff on various systems of oppression and how to work against them,” Bacigal continued. “This labor is not easy or quick; it means commitment to change and to becoming a district that upholds anti-oppressive frameworks.”
The group — and subsequent petition — was sparked following the resignation of school board president Tim Jenc July 15 after he shared a racially insensitive social media post on his personal Facebook account.
The post, made by Facebook user Dewayne Adam Davis and shared June 20 by Jenc, questioned why it’s acceptable in society to celebrate minority lives, history and culture when Whites are deemed racist for celebrating their own culture and accomplishments.
In his resignation letter, Jenc, who had served on the district’s Board of Education for nearly 12 years, expressed his regrets.
“I hope you know that I did not ever intend to give the district in which I have loved and supported my entire life this kind of negative publicity and am sincerely sorry for this to have ever happened,” Jenc wrote.
In its online petition, Owosso for Change demands that Owosso Public Schools take several steps to address racism and discrimination even further, among them having all district faculty and staff participate in racial justice and anti-bias professional development training prior to the 2020-21 school year.
The group also demands that the district teach a more inclusive history curriculum that highlights “racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia and the ways they intersect to create oppression, as well as the history of Owosso’s problematic past, at all grade levels.”
Furthermore, Owosso for Change would like the district’s board of education to “commit to making these changes long term by creating a subcommittee in conjunction with parents dedicated to working toward anti-racism in the district.”
In an emailed statement Thursday, Owosso Public Schools Superintendent Andrea Tuttle acknowledged that while the use of the word “demand” can be off-putting to many, she understands what Owosso for Change is working to accomplish.
“Even prior to their ‘demands,’ our administrative team has been keenly aware and supportive of the need for educational opportunities that promote social justice for all,” Tuttle said via email.
“The Owosso administrative team is currently working on securing professional development opportunities for students and staff to first understand and acknowledge the issues and then take appropriate action. Additionally, the district is researching and reviewing social justice curricular options. This is a process.”
Moving forward, Tuttle said the district is committed to working with the community to “learn, empower change and take action against discrimination and systemic racism.”
“We’re heartened to see that Dr. Tuttle is willing to cooperate and enact these long overdue changes,” Owosso for Change organizers said in an emailed statement.
“We also recognize that it will take the support of the entire school board to get these developments enacted and a culture shift in the district. We look forward to working with them while ensuring that these reforms are adequately addressed.”
The Owosso Public Schools Board of Education will conduct its next regular meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday.
During the meeting, the board of education will interview candidates for the vacant board seat created by Jenc’s departure. Upon completion of the interviews, the board will appoint one of the candidates to fill the open seat, according to the meeting agenda.
Monday’s meeting will be held virtually using the video conferencing app Zoom.
For information on how to access the meeting, call Bev White at (989) 729-5671.
To view the Owosso for Change petition in full, visit docs.google.com/document/d/15XklDfqKoa_REjvn9uONb1_2S1cXYZRfDAJpCiD-ooIemail@example.com&ts=5f0e313b&fbclid=IwAR3583fLl2qNZXSD96lWeVMRUXsytmYfMeMCCvoNU7yqYli-iVHKzmTWpxU.