BAINBRIDGE — Several Kenston High School students were present when a Black Lives Matter sign was recently burned, according to Superintendent Nancy Santilli. She said that the person burning the sign was not a Kenston student, but an unknown number of other Kenston students were at the scene.
Sophomore Chase Tuller said that the videos were first seen on the mobile app Snapchat on Monday, then teens used a screen-recording feature on their phones to share the videos on Snapchat and Instagram. Chase was the original planner for the Black Lives Matter rally in Chagrin Falls on June 2. There was another rally on Sunday in Chagrin Falls that was organized by a nonprofit called Rally for Justice. Chase said that the burning of the Black Lives Matter sign may be in response to the weekend rally.
“We focus a lot of time on tolerance, acceptance and celebration of diversity. We want to have an atmosphere where everyone feels welcome, safe and respected. That is not something that we would condone here,” Mrs. Santilli said of the incident.
She said that the sign was burned before school started and it did not take place at a school-sponsored event. The high school administration is investigating the incident and the school district reported it to Bainbridge police. Mrs. Santilli has watched a portion of the content that is circulating on social media, she said, and the individuals in the video are identifiable.
Bainbridge Police Chief John Bokovitz said that the incident is under investigation, but not for burning the sign. The police are investigating it as a theft. He said that political signs have been reported stolen for the past month, mostly presidential election signs for both parties. The chief said that a couple of Black Lives Matter signs have also been stolen.
“We are starting an investigation,” he said on Wednesday.
Even though the people involved seem to be juveniles, they can still be cited for theft, Chief Bokovitz said. The resident, who lives in the area of Catsden Road and Country Lane, also reported a sign stolen to Bainbridge police.
“Basically, a social media post was brought to our attention and depicted ‘a scene of cultural insensitivity,’” Mrs. Santilli said.
She declined to comment on possible discipline for the students but said that school officials have had meetings with parents.
Mrs. Santilli said that the district’s program called Peaceful Environment at Kenston, PEAK, is an initiative to promote positive interactions across various racial, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. There are six essential elements to the PEAK program, which was created more than a decade ago. The initiative focuses on safe harbor, parent/family education, behavior expectations, character traits, character reinforcement and staff development.
“We’ve done a lot of programs throughout the years stressing that,” Mrs. Santilli said. “We’ve taken a very proactive platform to address that.”
Students are chosen annually to be PEAK ambassadors, role models for their peers, according to an email from Director of Community Relations Katy McGrath. There have been many external influences on the PEAK program, including social unrest in communities.
Ms. McGrath also noted several goals for the PEAK program moving forward. Kenston plans to foster an inclusive environment, address racism and understand all forms of diversity and develop implicit bias awareness training. The district also will examine discipline records for racial disparity, build diverse curricular experiences and ensure culturally sensitive testing practices for equity opportunities for English learners, students with disabilities and gifted students.