Issues with school racism aired again before Franklin board

Racism issues within Franklin School District were once again brought to the attention of Franklin School Board members and district administrators during the panel’s work session Monday.

Jeff Polley, an Oil City resident and a leader of the Together We Can organization in the Oil City-Franklin community, has invited school board members to the group’s Sunday Supper get-togethers where racial issues are discussed.

Polley thanked school board members who attended the December Sunday Supper, but he expressed concern for the miscommunication he feels is happening with the invitations.

“What I’m trying to offer you guys is the opportunity to sit with a group of people who can share with you what this experience is like living in this county,” Polley said.

He added that historically in America – not just the Venango County area – there is a frustration that sets in when people of marginalized communities bring concerns and issues to the table and want to feel validated, but they repeatedly feel like that’s not happening.

“At some point, somebody here has to show the community we’re trying to represent that you guys are listening,” Polley said.

Stephanie Sloss, alongside her daughter who attends Valley Grove School District, informed the board of an incident in which she said a Franklin High School student threatened her daughter on a bus to Venango Technology Center last month.

The Franklin student allegedly told Sloss’ daughter, who is Black, that one of her friends would shoot her because of her race, Sloss said. She added that her daughter stayed home from school for two days afterward and has not returned to the technology center since the incident.

When she reached out to the districts about the incident and filed a police report against the Franklin student, Sloss said Valley Grove responded by holding an assembly but that she hadn’t heard back from anyone from Franklin and hasn’t come to a resolution with the tech center.

Sloss said the only solution Valley Grove officials could come up with for her daughter was to pull her from the tech center and return to a regular class schedule because they couldn’t work with Franklin or tech center officials.

“My daughter would have to be punished and removed from her special class because they (Valley Grove) didn’t know what else to do,” Sloss said.

Sloss said she and her daughter attended Monday’s meeting to ask people to listen so her daughter would not have to go to school in fear.

Following Sloss’ remarks, Franklin superintendent Mark Loucks offered to meet with her later this week to discuss the matter.

Rhiannon Graham, the mother of a student in the Franklin School District who has struggled with racial incidents while attending school, also raised concerns to the board that she said she first brought to the panel’s attention two years ago.

Graham said it takes “unlikely allies” to stand up for change, but that change won’t happen within the district if the board just listens and doesn’t take action.

“I’m angry at the downright racism and injustice that happens, but I’m more angry at those who just sit in silence,” Graham said through tears.

Public comment about racism in the district wrapped up with remarks from Franklin resident Jimmy Johnson, who said he was an example of “living history” and had witnessed live the events of the civil rights movement that many people today have had to learn about.

Johnson said he doesn’t appreciate people who tell him “racism is not real” and that the students in the district experiencing it shouldn’t have to.

“These kids are taking a beat down, and I have a problem with that,” Johnson said.

Toward the end of the meeting and before the board went into an executive session for personnel matters, school board member Donald Judy said he was “disgusted” by the situation Sloss told the panel about and that he hopes the district is “vigilant” in handling it.

Judy added that he believes the district is “not doing its due diligence” to help educate its students on thorough American history and the founding principles of the nation.

“Black history is American history,” Judy said. “It’s not just every February.”

District gets grant

In other business at Monday’s meeting, junior high school principal John Bianconi told the board the district has received a grant from the Venango Area Community Foundation and Bridge Builders Community Foundation to install a 350-square-foot mural on the side of the Barrow-Civic Theatre in downtown Franklin.

Once the board accepts the $13,028 grant, Bianconi said the district will put out surveys looking for design ideas for the community mural project.

He added that work on the mural will begin once the weather is good enough, and he hopes the project will be completed by the summer or fall of this year.

The board will formally vote to accept the grant at its next business meeting on Jan. 24.

Senior high school principal Christina Cohlhepp also told the board the school’s graduation ceremony on June 5 will be held in the stadium next to the high school rather than the traditional time and setting of 2 p.m. in downtown Franklin’s Bandstand Park.

Cohlhepp said the decision was made following the heat attendees endured during a previous 2 p.m. ceremony and good feedback from families when last year’s commencement was held in the stadium.

Board president Sabrina Backer added that she was surprised by how many people she heard preferred the stadium to the park, and student board member Caleb Doyle said students had a generally negative reaction when asked if they would rather hold the ceremony during the week rather than on a Sunday.

The board will hold its formal January business meeting at 7 p.m. Jan. 24 in the high school library.