Sikh Coalition calls for investigation at WCHS

A national Sikh coalition is calling for an investigation and is promising free legal aid to the victim of bullying at Whiteland Community High School.

The Sikh Coalition, which says it’s the largest Sikh civil rights organization in the United States, is referring to an incident that occurred Wednesday in the high school’s cafeteria, according to a news release from the coalition.

“A group of students began filming our client and other Punjabi students eating lunch in the cafeteria, making statements including ‘why do you wear these turbans’ and ‘why you are here?’” the news release said. “After our client tried to prevent them from filming, several students proceeded to assault him: they punched and kicked him, including by specifically knocking his turban off of his head, and made bigoted remarks about his turban and race throughout the assault.”

Clark-Pleasant schools and local police are investigating the altercation, said Rick Hightower, spokesperson for the district.

“Superintendent Dr. Patrick Spray has reached out to the Sikh community in an effort to begin dialogue regarding this matter,” Hightower said. “Clark-Pleasant schools wants everyone in the school community to know that we will not tolerate any type of racism, bigotry, violence or discrimination in our schools, and we have worked tirelessly to bring about a culture that supports diversity, equity and inclusion within the school district.”

The Sikh student involved in the altercation was sent to the school nurse due to his injuries, and also received a five-day suspension due to his involvement in the altercation, according to the news release.

A 2014 Sikh Coalition study that included students in Indiana, California, Massachusetts and Washington found Sikh students who wore turbans were bullied at twice the rate of their peers, the news release said.

The coalition is also looking into any previous potentially bias-motivated attacks at Clark-Pleasant schools, and how the district responds to them, legal director Amrith Kaur Aakre said in the news release.

“We believe there is a pattern of bullying Punjabi Sikh students — especially those wearing turbans — that has gone unaddressed by (Whiteland Community High School) administrators,” Aakre said. “We expect officials from the school to address this concern, rescind our client’s suspension and provide him with tutoring for the instruction he has now missed, and share a plan for the safety of him and other students like him.”

Spray plans to discuss the incident with members of the Sikh temple in Greenwood, he said Friday.

“On the website, we have information regarding Sikh culture,” he said. “The first step is to meet with the Sikh community and leadership and get their input and suggestions on how we move forward.”

During the 2019-20 school year, 453 students at Clark-Pleasant schools spoke Punjabi, more than double the number of students who speak any other foreign language.