Before the Ohio Senate Education Committee
January 15, 2014
Greetings! Chairwoman Lehner and members of the Education Committee thank you for this opportunity to speak before you today on this very important bill. I am Maria Holt, a parent, community activist, and Co-Founder of Racial Justice NOW!. Racial Justice Now! is a parent and grassroots, community activist organization.
I became actively involved in education and school discipline issues as a result of some very unfortunate experiences. Unfortunately, my son, who was only 3 years old at the time became a target of racial bias at an upper-middle class preschool in suburban Dayton. My son was only one of two African American students in his class and the only African American boy. Almost immediately after his enrollment his teachers began to complain about his behavior and suggested that he get screened for some sort of social-emotional disorder. I was appalled because the behavior that they complained about was that he refused to take a nap and had “temper tantrums.” Initially I was afraid, confused and saddened because I thought something was wrong with my child.
I consulted his pediatrician and she assured me based on her professional opinion that there was nothing wrong with my son and according to her he was being a normal 3 year old boy. I was excited and relieved so I happily shared the results with the preschool and to my surprise they rejected the opinion of the pediatrician and suggested that I take him to mental health agency paid for by them. This is when I became suspicious and began to ask more probing questions of the teachers. I was a student myself at the time at Wright State University and I became so uncomfortable sitting in class worrying about my son, I could no longer concentrate on my studies because the school called me constantly to pick him up early.
So I began doing more unannounced visits to the school to observe my son in his classroom environment. I took notes every time and I used my access to academic research and journals at Wright State to read and learn more about education and African American boys. The results of my research were startling and I remember being shocked to find out that this is something that happens to parents and their children all across the nation. My unannounced visits and observations that preempted their constant calling to pick him up seemed to infuriate the staff at the preschool. The school began to threaten me about expelling my son from their school if his behavior didn’t change, again as a student myself at the time this was the only affordable childcare that I could afford and if he was expelled I wouldn’t be able to finish my studies.
I had to make a hard choice, I saw that my son was beginning dislike going to school and he would say to me that his teachers didn’t like him. For me, that was the last straw, I could no longer tolerate the toll the environment was taking on my son. So I was forced to drop out of school and put my higher education on hold and I removed my son from that preschool and filed a complaint with Ohio Civil Rights Commission and the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights based on race on behalf of my son.
I tell my story to this body because I want you all to know that my story is not an aberration or unique. There are parents all across this State who are suffering in silence because they are confused and afraid like I once was. Many parents across this State are just like me doing their best to raise their children alone while working full time and pursuing higher education. The constant calling to pick their children up or else puts many parents in a no-win situation. Some parents are forced like me to abandon their pursuit for higher education, some parents reluctantly allow their children to be medicated as early three years old just so they can keep their jobs because they can’t continue to take off from work every time the school calls without fear of losing their jobs. I am here today to speak on behalf of those parents who want to be here but cannot.
I am asking this body to pass Senate Bill 167 so that parents like me have a fighting chance to advocate on behalf of their children for more nuanced approaches to school discipline like positive behavior interventions, restorative justice practices at the local level or the Dignity-in-School Campaign Model Code for Education and Dignity.
Maria A. Holt