Empowering Pro-Human Values at Columbus Academy

At a top independent high school in Columbus, Ohio, a coalition of over 400 community members are working to advance civil rights and liberties, and promote a common culture based on fairness, understanding and humanity.

COLUMBUS ACADEMY—INTIMIDATION OF STUDENTS; LACK OF DIVERSITY & INCLUSIVENESS; LACK OF TRANSPARENCY; AND STRUCTURAL AND ACCOUNTABILITY CONCERNS

COLUMBUS, Ohio

This is an Open Letter to the Columbus Academy (CA) Leadership Team, Board of Trustees, and all direct and indirect community members of CA. We are a group of hundreds of CA community members, including current parents across the Upper, Middle and Lower Schools, students, faculty, former parents, and alumni. Many of us have decades long relationships with CA, and most of us actively support our CA community with our valuable time, money, and other resources. We respect and care deeply for our CA community. For each family or individual that has signed this Open Letter, many more in our community have expressed agreement in whole or in part with the concerns expressed herein.

Today we are writing to publicly express our concerns about:

(1) The intimidation and bullying of students at CA based on political ideology;

(2) The lack of openminded, well-rounded, and unbiased leadership at CA resulting in marginalized groups at CA;

(3) The lack of transparency among CA leadership; and

(4) Apparent structural flaws resulting in lack of accountability at CA, which in turn compounds the issues identified above in (1)-(3).

At a minimum, we view these problems as a failure to foster a vibrant, inclusive, and diverse community at CA which should be rightly focused on academic excellence. In the worst case, we view these problems as posing an existential threat to CA.

Each of us has embraced CA for the pursuit of academic excellence.

Indeed, the goal of academic excellence is of paramount importance to CA’s Mission Statement. We value a healthy and encouraging environment that fosters learning, critical thinking, and diversity of people and ideas.

We believe that diversity, inclusion, and justice are fundamental to the strength and viability of our community. We also believe that openminded and unbiased leadership, along with transparent policies and structural accountability are critical to achieving the goals of diversity and inclusion at CA for all people. Without diversity of leadership across various dimensions, we believe that disenfranchisement, political indoctrination, bullying, and intimidation become natural and widely acceptable—all causing academic excellence to suffer greatly.

We appreciate the difficulties presented by the past year for all CA community leaders and members, and, in particular, the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, civil injustices and social unrest, and a volatile political climate during the election year. We also appreciate the difficult decisions and actions taken by school leadership during these times, and we recognize the positive impact of CA leadership efforts that resulted in a largely in-
person, functioning school. We believe these efforts demonstrate what can be accomplished with a united and dedicated community.

But unfortunately, we believe that CA leadership has failed to address diversity and inclusion for all CA community members, which has led to intimidation and bullying of our students and community members based on political ideologies.

Diversity and inclusion demands respect across many different dimensions, including race, ethnicity, gender, sexual diversity and orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities and disabilities, learning abilities and disabilities, religious beliefs, and political beliefs and ideologies. Attached to this letter in an Appendix, we provide examples from our CA community members of perceived intimidation and bullying of students based on their political beliefs and ideologies. These examples are based on firsthand experiences, often provided to us directly from our children and shared within the privacy of our homes. It seems as though CA leadership has been complicit in the least, and active in the worst, in many of these circumstances.

As just one example, on the very first day of school a CA Freshman English teacher informed his class that, if any students are supporters of President Trump, then he prefers not to know or else he does not believe he will be able to speak with those students. One student described to their parents that they feel as though they have been “scared” to prevent them from engaging in open and well-intended discourse in class, based on the teacher’s open adoption of political extremism, intolerance, and exclusion of students with different views. Based on discussions with parents and students, this is not an uncommon experience at CA.

Put simply, we cannot accept that our children will be intimidated and bullied by CA leadership, teachers, or other students based on political views. CA is not a school for Republicans or a school for Democrats; there is simply no place for political bullying or exclusion of students at CA no matter their political beliefs. While we believe there is an appropriate time and place for debate and discussion of sensitive and sometimes divisive political topics in an academic community, we believe CA leadership should exercise special care to avoid overt leadership adoption of divisive partisan positions, or approval (whether tacit or express) of political indoctrination by faculty on divisive, partisan issues. These actions only serve to further divide our community. Unfortunately, we do not believe CA leadership is currently acknowledging or addressing this problem.

We do not believe that CA leadership has adequately addressed issues of diversity and inclusion across various minority groups.

This claim, too, stems from firsthand discussion with various members of our faculty and students. Included in the Appendix, we provide specific examples from CA community members who question the commitment of CA leadership to address a lack of diversity and inclusion across various groups, such as racial and ethnic groups, and students with learning disabilities.

As one example, many of our Hispanic and Asian community members feel marginalized and ignored based on perceived inequitable policies adopted and supported by CA leadership. We believe these examples reflect a failure of CA leadership on this subject and call into question CA as a safe and inclusive learning environment for all students under its current leadership.

We do not believe that CA leadership has adequately addressed these issues when raised privately, which may be caused by a lack of transparency and accountability.

Many of our CA community members have described to us that they have raised these issues privately with various members of the Leadership Team, Board of Trustees, and others in influential positions at CA. But the concerns have largely been dismissed and ignored by CA leadership. We view this as likely a systemic and structural problem, due in large part to a lack of transparency and accountability. How are curriculum decisions being made, and what exactly are the changes that are being made? Who is responsible for the changes? These are fundamental questions that lack transparency from CA leadership.

Various CA community members have raised issues of student intimidation, bullying, lack of diversity, and lack of transparency with CA leadership. Some have been told by CA leadership in response that, “Maybe CA is not the right school for you.” This disenfranchisement should be deeply concerning to all members of the CA community. We suspect that for each member of the CA community willing to raise these issues directly with CA leadership, there are many more members of our CA community with similar concerns, as well as members of our alumni community who are entirely unaware of these circumstances.

We also suspect that a root cause of “acceptable disenfranchisement” within our community members is a lack of diversity of political opinion within CA leadership—both at the Board and Leadership level. Put simply, we suspect that the makeup of the Board does not reflect the makeup of our community members. Otherwise, how could such overtly partisan and divisive approaches within private education become so prevalent as to normalize intimidation and bullying? A lack of transparency, accountability, and introspection from CA leaders on these topics compounds the problem, causing many minority members of our community to feel isolated and vulnerable.

Please understand that our intentions with this Open Letter are to publicly raise what we view as significant concerns with the direction and climate of CA. Our concerns are only heightened by our firm belief in, and love for, CA and our entire community. We do not wish to divert resources and efforts from the important focus of academic excellence, but we feel compelled to bring attention to this issue in order to give a voice to the marginalized so that the school can hopefully reconnect with its core mission.

We hope CA can move forward with an atmosphere of true inclusion where all students are valued, academic excellence is a priority, and education takes place in a non- judgmental environment modeled by faculty and our community.

Sincerely,
The Pro CA Coalition