The high stress levels of students at Oak Ridge High School. The increasing number of students who take multiple Advanced Placement courses for status reasons, in response to parental pressure or to be in class with friends. The lack of social workers at ORHS, which has a rising number of at-risk, underfed students who qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches.
The finding that less than 2 percent of ORHS students are referred for almost half of the disciplinary actions taken, including suspensions. Yet, because of privacy laws, people interested in mentoring at least two dozen disciplinary students cannot learn their names.
These were some of the teacher and community concerns highlighted by the Reverend Derrick Hammond, pastor at Oak Valley Baptist Church, at a recent meeting of the Oak Ridge unit of Church Women United.
He announced that on Sunday, April 24, at Oak Ridge High School, from 4-5:30 p.m., city leaders will respond to public concerns raised during the three “Community Matters” sessions held last October and November. The speakers will include Oak Ridge High School Principal Martin McDonald and Oak Ridge Police Chief Jim Akagi.
Hammond recently interacted with a group of teachers, who told him, “We want parents and the community to know that we as educators want the best for your children.”
He reminded the CWU members that the Community Matters sessions focused on the school system, law enforcement, and youth. The sessions were led by Hammond, Reverend Jake Morrill of the Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church, and Father Brent Shelton of St. Mary’s Catholic Church. Some of the African-American attendees at these sessions wanted to know if the data show indications of bias against African-Americans.
Hammond told the CWU audience that he asked the ORHS principal and teachers what the data show with respect to suspensions. He wanted to know if African-American students are suspended at a higher rate than white students.
He was told that one student was suspended six times, “which skews the data,” he said. Reasons for suspensions, he added, range from “refusal to turn in a cellphone to not coming to class.”
Morrill has been interacting with Akagi on law enforcement issues, such as whether “blacks get pulled over more than whites,” Hammond said. On January 1, a new traffic stop policy was rolled out for Oak Ridge, he said.
Hammond’s recommendations are to build relationships that are conducive to partnerships (including holding ecumenical church services and programs), determine what engaged Oak Ridgers “are most passionate about” doing to help solve community problems, and develop a “research mobilization strategy” so that people at all levels can access all the facts to dispel incorrect beliefs.
“We need to stand on each other’s shoulders to get all the apples off the tree,” he concluded.
Carolyn Krause is a contributor to Oak Ridge Today.
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