Two organizations in Ithaca held a press conference Nov. 16 to call for the resignation of Judith Pastel, superintendant of the Ithaca City School District.
Activists Committed to Interrupting Oppression Now and Race Liberation Alliance organized the conference in response to a student’s suspension after he was involved in another racial incident at Ithaca High School.
At the press conference at the South Side Community Center in Ithaca, Bryce Housel, 15, the student suspended, expressed concerns about the safety of black students in Ithaca High School.
“When I go to school, I always have to be on high alert,” he said.
The suspension followed protests by Ithaca High School students last month involving the case of Amelia Kearney v. ICSD.
In December, Kearney, an Ithaca College student, will appear in court to seek compensation from the school district for failing to protect her daughter from racial harassment that she said occurred over a 5-month period last year.
During the press conference, Keisha Hicks, Housel’s mother, said she was disappointed in the high school’s leadership and the way her son’s suspension was handled. She said the suspension was terminated early because she was not informed of it until after it took effect.
Marcia Fort, a member of ACTION, said the petition asking for Pastel’s resignation declared her unfit to lead the district.
Pastel, who was not present at the press conference, said she wants to cooperate with parents, but she would not comply with the request.
“I do not plan to resign,” she said.
Housel was suspended for hitting another student at the high school after the student allegedly called Housel a racially derogatory term. Housel said he was defending himself from verbal and potential physical abuse.
Hicks said the school acted unfairly in punishing her son but not the white student.
“The administration doesn’t help protect those who have been harmed,” she said.
Pastel said all students involved in the incident had consequences.
Hicks said it is the administration failing and not the school staff.
“The faculty and staff are exemplary in their efforts to ensure all students get a quality education,” she said. “The disconnect is the administrative side of … Ithaca High School.”
Pastel said she is active in promoting change within the schools.
“I’ve been … supporting the principals and the teachers with regards to ideas that they have,” she said. “There are some options that I’ve asked them to consider and look forward to having these changes occur in the school.”
Pastel said racial tension in the school is part of a broader problem that society as a whole needs to work on. She said the district alone cannot make all the changes necessary to keep students safe in school.
“We as adults just need to … help our children understand the power of words and bullying,” she said. “That’s not acceptable in our community.”