Around 50 students at Ithaca High School (IHS) skipped class yesterday to protest the Board of Education’s response to recent racial incidents.
Students planned yesterday’s protest after an Ithaca High School Board of Education meeting Tuesday night. Students attended the meeting to discuss the district’s handling of the Amelia Kearney vs. Ithaca City School District (ICSD) case, according to IHS sophomore Jesse Grossman, one of the protest’s coordinators.
Grossman said the board left the meeting to deliberate, but when they returned, members changed the subject. Students rushed the stage, and board members were forced to leave through a back exit, he said.
Judith Maxwell, a member of the Board of Education, said she was unaware of yesterday’s protest but was at Tuesday’s board meeting.
“[The Board of Education] couldn’t go on with the scheduled meeting because the audience wanted us to vote on an issue that we couldn’t, and we told them so,” Maxwell said. “Emotions were up there.”
Kearney vs. ICSD stemmed from allegations that 14-year-old Epiphany Kearney was spit at, hit, violently threatened and verbally abused with racial slurs within a five-month period last year. Amelia Kearney, Epiphany’s mother and an Ithaca College student, is seeking compensation for emotional damage and an acknowledgement from the school district that they failed to handle the situation appropriately.
Students began the protest at 9 a.m. with a march around school. Their actions resulted in a lock down, which kept protestors locked outside the Ithaca High School building.
“[The administration] put the school in lock down for over an hour,” Grossman said. “They locked all the windows and everything. There was no way to get in.”
Protesters discussed the lock down and other concerns at a meeting in IHS’ student activities center around noon. The group was concerned that lock down would prevent other students from being aware of, or joining in, the demonstration.
Grossman said the goal of the protest was to meet with superintendent Judith Pastel, but she did not appear.
“We got the assistant superintendent instead, which was helpful,” he said. “But we don’t believe that they listened … they haven’t in the past.”
The protest also drew supporters from Ithaca College and the community. Members of the college’s African-
Latino Society (ALS), who supported the case at a rally Oct. 1, attended yesterday’s protest. Sophomore Elizabeth Rodriguez, ALS’ public information officer, said the group has been working to spread the word about Kearney vs. ICSD and have also contacted the governor’s office.
“We’ve become involved in everything that’s going on,” Rodriguez said. “We’re showing our support to the students here.”
Vincent Sierra came to the rally as both a community member and as a father who has a child attending the local schools. He spoke to students about being involved in the cause, not just skipping classes.
“Listen to what is going on and soak that in and understand that even though the case may not be about you, … eventually, its going to get back to you,” he said. “Ithaca’s only but so big.”
Following the noon meeting, the group marched around the school again, chanting slogans like “no justice, no peace” and “hey hey, ho ho, Ms. Pastel has got to go.” They ended in front of the administrative offices on Lake Street, the same property as the high school. The second march resulted in a lock down of the administrative building with faculty and staff guarding nearby school entrances.
Greg Santoro, an associate principal at IHS who was following the second protest march, said he could not comment.
Principal Joe Wilson and Pastel were also not available for comment.
“They’re scared of us now,” Grossman said. “[We’re going to] show them that we’re not going to quit.”