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13 INVESTIGATES: Students accuse Oregon School District of ignoring racism problem at schools

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OREGON (WREX) — Inside the walls of any school, children are supposed to feel safe and protected. But four students who spoke with 13 Investigates, said that isn't the case at Oregon's schools.

"You hear a lot of racism and racial slander, slurs," said Keshon Reed, an Oregon High School graduate.

Many of them says they've been called names, since they've grown up in the district.

"The 'n' word, like 'coon', like 'jigaboo'," said Dre Smith, a junior at the high school.

13 Investigates sat down with the four friends, who detailed their experiences in the school, and said racism is a big issue that started long before they even got to high school.

"Going into elementary school, I just became, like, used to it," said Reed.

"I've been called the N word since my kindergarten year. Like, through my senior year. Every single year. There hasn't been a year where I haven't been called that," said Trey Woolsey, who graduated from the high school earlier this year.

The students say racism at the school is common, but little if anything is every done about it. Even when school leaders are shown proof of it.

"A kid dm'd me on Instagram talking about like how he didn't like black people," said Terrance Harris.

Copy of racist message sent to Terrance Harris

In fact, that message said, "We hate blacks" and showed a sheep with a white sheet over it. The student behind the message then went on to tell Harris, "Kill yourself".

When Harris complained to his principal, Kip Crandall, he said he was brushed off.

13 Investigates obtained an email Crandall sent to Harris' mother about the incident, in which he said, "We spoke about 1st amendment rights and what people are unfortunately allowed to say."

Harris' mother was outraged.

"That's what scared me. My son confided in a man for that situation and it could have been too late," said Erin McLain.

McLain said it wasn't the first time the district failed her children.

"This boy kept making fun of her skin color. He said, 'When I got home and I take a poop in reminds me of your skin Erilyn,'" said McClain about an experience one of her daughters had with a student in class. McLain says her child now wears hoodies all the time, even in 90 degree heat, to cover up her skin.

13 Investigates took these allegations to the superintendent of Oregon Schools, Dr. Tom Mahoney. He denied our request for an interview but provided a statement that said in part, "The Oregon School District treats every allegation of bullying seriously and has a set procedure for investigating those complaints."

He went on to say, "… we provide appropriate discipline intended to educate the children about the impact of their behavior on others."

The four students say the district is well aware there is a racism problem at the schools, and even had a meeting about it last year.

We obtained a March 2020 email about that meeting, meant to address "race issues at OHS". It mentioned that some staff were shocked because they believed there was little to no racism at the school.

But a December 2019 email from Oregon High's principal showed there was concern about racism at that point. She wrote the school was, "Dealing with a fairly serious matter involving racial comments and threats" and she said to staff, "I beg of you. If you hear these types of statements... please please do not allow it."

Despite the meeting and the pleas, the four students say the district isn't trying to fix the problem. McLain agrees, and said she hopes by sharing her story, that will spur change.

"I'm scared that once this comes out as well, that it's a bigger target. But I have to do it. It's best for my kids and other kids because I'm scared for all of them to take somebody's advice and kill themselves," she said.

If you feel your school is not adequately addressing harassment based on race, sex, religion or disability, you can contact state and federal agencies for help. That information is available HERE.

Kristin Crowley

Evening News Anchor
Kristin Crowley anchors the 5, 6 and 10 p.m. news. She is also a reporter for 13 Investigates. She brings more than a decade of experience to the newsroom. Her work at WREX has earned her multiple awards including a regional Edward R. Murrow for Investigative Journalism and three regional Emmys.

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