MONROE — Melanie Ryan has talked to a couple dozen families of current and former students in Monroe schools over the past few weeks.
All have told Ryan, the president of the Monroe Equity Council, their stories of racism in the district.
Some residents, meanwhile, have tried to tell her racism doesn’t exist in the city.
When she hears that, Ryan responds: “Well, what is your definition of racist? Is there a quota we have to meet?”
For example, a sixth-grader at Park Place Middle School hasn’t been going to school in-person for two weeks because he was targeted with racist slurs and physical intimidation, the student’s mother, Aj Crecelius, told The Daily Herald.
The harassment of the student, who is Black, started over a month ago, she said.
Crecelius picked up her son, 11, from school in October and took him to dinner. He told his mother about what was going on: Fellow students had been calling him the N-word.
He told his classmates it was hurtful. They didn’t stop.
Other days, students pushed the boy into the girl’s bathroom, spat on him and called him homophobic slurs, according to his mother.
“He was completely emotionally distraught and pulled me aside separately and was just in tears for like two hours,” said Crecelius, choked up. “He’s like, ‘I can’t do this.’ And it’s so unfortunate because he had so much hope. We had so much hope.”
He told his mother he couldn’t go on there. His last day in the building was Nov. 18. Since then, he has been learning virtually.
Crecelius said her son is not looking for an excuse to get out of school. He wants to attend.
“He just wants to feel safe,” she said.
In an equity council meeting Wednesday night, families of color discussed their experiences in Monroe. One graduate said she was targeted with racist slurs while in high school. A mother said a student told their Black son his skin was the color of feces. Her son is in elementary school.
All the families Ryan has talked with reported they don’t feel the district hears their concerns.
“It’s just a scab or a wound that won’t heal,” Ryan said.
These examples show that a filmed Nov. 10 encounter in the parking lot of Monroe High School was not an isolated incident, Ryan said. And it goes beyond the high school. Just before lunchtime, the video shows, a Black student was subjected to racist slurs and a possible threat from a white student.
The targeted boy was out of school for three weeks. He returned Wednesday, his mother told The Daily Herald. The high school came up with a safety plan to try to assuage the son’s fears. But when he got there, school officials let him know one of the students who targeted him might also be in school, his mother said. She went and immediately picked him up. He withdrew from the school, she said.
The mother said Thursday she has been looking at apartments in other cities because she wants out of Monroe.
“I have to put the pedal to the metal,” she said.
Monroe police wrapped up an investigation of the incident this week and sent their findings to prosecutors Wednesday night, Chief Jeffrey Jolley said. Police were still interviewing witnesses through Tuesday.
Come January, the district will be working with an equity consultant who has done similar work with Everett schools. That consultant will help the district come up with ways to make Monroe schools more inclusive, Superintendent Dr. Justin Blasko said in an interview.
“Doubling down on efforts is what we have to do,” he said. “It renews our commitment. We know that we’re not where we want to be. … This diversity, equity, inclusion work is not something that’s going to change overnight. It’s something that you have to just continuously get better and better at.”
And he said it’s urgent.
Sky Valley Education Center also had a recent incident of racist grafitti. The spray-painted slur was removed before students arrived on campus, Blasko said. The district reported it to police.
Blasko noted racism in schools isn’t an issue specific to Monroe. It’s an ongoing conversation everywhere. Two Monroe School Board members got state-mandated cultural competency training at a recent conference. All board members must go through the training under a state law passed this year. And in August, Monroe teachers were trained in educational equity, Blasko said.
“We want kids to be safe in our environment,” Blasko said.
The equity council is pushing for specific action: an equity director, a community advisory board with representation for underrepresented communities and anti-racism training above state requirements.
Crecelius said her son used to love school. But the attacks have left him heartbroken.
“This has forever affected his life.”