Clark-Pleasant schools, Sikh coalition find common ground

A national Sikh group no longer plans to sue Clark-Pleasant schools regarding a bullied student.

The Sikh Coalition’s lawyers said this week they were convinced Clark-Pleasant schools would take meaningful steps to prevent future discriminatory bullying.

The coalition said a student was bullied Feb. 23 at Whiteland Community High School, and his turban was knocked off.

“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?’” a Sikh Coalition 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.”

Since then, administrators at Clark-Pleasant schools met with members of the Sikh community, and Superintendent Patrick Spray committed to discussing the incident with members of Greenwood’s Sikh temple.

The victim will have his suspension removed from his record, and Whiteland Community High School will provide him with resources to catch up on any lost time in the classroom. The district also committed Friday to review and update the high school’s anti-bias and Sikh Awareness programming, though administrators didn’t offer any specific examples of how the school would do so by deadline.

“Clark-Pleasant Community Schools, our building administration and staff at Whiteland Community High School remain committed to the health and welfare of all students,” Spray said in a statement. “We will commit to our part to create a community that is welcoming and inclusive of all our students and staff members in order to create and maintain a healthy learning environment.”

The incident is part of a continued culture of discrimination among students at the school, including a fight involving a different Punjabi student in a Whiteland high school bathroom just days before the Feb. 23 incident, said Amrith Kaur Aakre, legal director for the Sikh Coalition.

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.

“People identified themselves as current or former students who experienced bullying that was racially or religiously motivated or related to sexual orientation or disability,” Aakre said. “Generally, there was a systemic pattern of bullying that seemed to have gone unaddressed.”

The victim in the Feb. 23 altercation has decided he won’t return to traditional learning after the incident and will instead learn virtually, she said.

“You truly hope these kids learn something from this, that’s what we’re working toward with the school. One thing I would hate is for the kids to come away from this situation learning nothing. Right now, our client feels safest not returning to in-person school,” Aakre said.

“I would love for him to eventually come out of the situation feeling safer and more confident and not feeling like he’s a target because of his racial and religious identity or the fact he’s a recent immigrant. I want the bullies to understand it’s not OK to target someone because of race or religion. It impacts the entire community the target represents.”