After a few students were taunted in school with words about building walls, far more local residents gathered outside The Commons to “Stand on the Side of Love.”
About 300 people gathered Friday to share their belief that bullying or taunting about wall-building isn’t what Columbus is about.
“People need to know there’s love and peace in the community,” said Malorie Farrington, rally organizer and a member of Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbus, which hosted the event.
The rally was planned after a Columbus parent with students at two Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. schools informed principals that his children heard the words “Build That Wall” said to them by other students — most recently Tuesday.
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That parent, First Presbyterian Church Pastor Felipe Martinez, contacted principals at the two schools asking them to look into the issue. While saying the children are all right, Martinez also said the hurt has not gone away.
During Friday’s rally, the pastor said he appreciated the outpouring of community support.
“This helps me understand that we’re not alone,” Martinez said. “It embodies that.”
Martinez said it was important to stand up for others.
“We speak for those who cannot speak because they are that afraid,” Martinez said.
Rally participants carried signs that read “Columbus is Standing on the Side of Love! Hate hurts everyone,” “I Stand for Love” and “Love is Win-Win.”
Mary Moore, interim pastor of the Unitarian congregation, told rally participants that no matter if they were Muslim, Jewish or a person of color, they are loved.
“If you are a person with a disability, you are loved and we support your rights,” Moore said.
During the rally, participants walked from The Commons down Washington Street to Fourth and Jackson streets and then returned to The Commons.
Karli Reynolds, a Columbus East High School senior, was among several students who said it was important to stand up for love and justice.
On the heels of this week’s election, Reynolds said she believes people can be positive and ready for a better future.
Columbus resident Kathleen Leason said she senses tension within minority segments of the community, and felt it was important to attend the rally to support others.
“It’s about being a decent person and you need to treat people with respect,” she said.
BCSC Superintendent Jim Roberts also attended the rally.
Roberts said the past few days have been a challenge for the district, which is taking aggressive action to deal with any taunting situations that come about, he said.
“I pledge we will do our best to protect the children of the community,” Roberts said.
In a statement released to the community and to the media, Roberts asked students and families to report any concern to the teacher or school administrator closest to the issue so that it can be immediately addressed.
“In addition, we request the contributions of all stakeholders in the community in order to most effectively address the raw feelings that currently exist,” Roberts wrote. “Regardless of our political leanings, it is imperative that we address each other in a civil manner, openly communicate and actively demonstrate respect and appreciation.”
The recent statements directed to two BCSC students resulted in the sole complaint filed with school officials about taunting, said Larry Perkinson, BCSC employee and student assistance coordinator.
Perkinson said he was told that the comments were made to the students in a hallway or by students walking behind other students. BCSC officials suspect the isolated incidents are based on comments made during the recent national political campaign.
Additionally, some BCSC students arrived at school teary-eyed Wednesday morning after the election, telling teachers and staff they were concerned that they, or their friends, might have to leave the country, Perkinson said.
Each young person who expressed anxiety received some one-on-one attention from a teacher or staff member letting them know that school is a safe place to be, Perkinson said.
“In these cases, there was face-to-face communication that we’re going to get through this,” Perkinson said.
Local schools are also offering information about counseling resources to students if requested, he said.
In his statement, Roberts said the school system will not tolerate actions that demonstrate a lack of understanding and respect for people’s differences.
“Evidence of our commitment to addressing these situations is easily found as our building administrators and staff members have been diligent in their efforts to communicate expectations, provide counsel to those in need and deliver corrective measures as warranted,” Roberts wrote.