A group of Sandusky residents gathered outside the Sandusky Schools administration building Monday morning to make themselves heard.
"It's time to engage our board members, bring our concerns to the table and ask them, 'What can we do to make Sandusky City Schools better for our children?'" Richard Koonce told a predominantly black crowd of nearly two dozen people.
"We want to help the entire district. African Americans and minorities make up about51 percent of that," Koonce said.
The rally was planned after members of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, The Sandusky Citizens Coalition, TheCitizens Education Oversight Committee, Men of Action and Black Women Business Professionals penned a letter to Sandusky Board of Education regarding diversity,fairness and equity in hiring practices.
"... These organizations are seriouslyconcerned about what is perceived as acontinued lack of regard by the current school administration for achieving diversity,fairness and equity in the school district's hiring practices," the letter read.
"The current administration recently made hiring decisions that, from our perspective, cannot be justified considering the public rarely, if ever, has the benefit of knowing the qualifications and experience of all who applied for most job openings ... During this process, the equal rights of African Americans and other minorities most often are trampled upon. Oftentimes, the equal rights of other white applicants are trampled upon during this process as well."
Koonce led a discussion on how to make sure voices are heard -- not only minorities, but the concerned community members as a whole.
Concerns addressed in the rally included special treatment of athletes, hiring and termination practices, discipline, improper notification regarding board meetings and the removal of children from the district.
"We want to feel just as important now as we do when they want us to help with levies," Darrell Charlton said. "As taxpayers paying taxes, when these levies pass, we expect something to happen. We expect to be included in what's happening, and it's not happening."
"It's taxation without representation," Herman Robinson said.
"Citizens have to be involved," Koonce said. "Yes, we have excellent teachers, but we need to make sure we're ensuring diversity. I'm proposing a civic engagement council, where citizens can become a part of this process by filling out an application and telling why they want to be involved. A way we can reach people and get them to understand we are all about education."
Many showed interest in being part of the council but wondered if the administration would accept their input.
"We'll attend every board meeting until we're heard," Koonce said. "If diversity is important, we'll tell them to show it and let citizens be part of the process. I don't have all the answers -- I look for other people to give me feedback. We could go on and on about issues, but if we can come together, we can address those issues. I do know we need to deal with this now so it doesn't happen in the future. I don't believe our city has seen a movement where our children have seen us standing up for our beliefs."
"An organization communicates well with an organization, better than an organization deals with individuals," Robinson said. "This is not about the African American or minority community. This in an issue of inclusion. Every citizen that pays taxes has an investment in school decisions."
"We can't just be here one time. This has to be consistent," Clifton Frisby said. "We can't just come here today and have no one show up next time. If they do not see we're consistent, they're not going to take us seriously."
The rally ended just before the board meeting, and attendees held signs saying: "Will the REAL board members stand up," and "They love us at levy time but ignore us the rest of the time."
"To be all-inclusive, we are not only interested in the education of the black community but all children," Dan Leavell said. "In the 21st century, without an education it's kind of like being in a rowboat without oars."
Koonce said he hopes to form an organization and have at least two school board members involved.
"We hope they agree to a community forum where we can address our concerns," he said, turning on a bullhorn and addressing the open administration building windows. "We're going to come out here every board meeting, every single board meeting until we're heard. That policy about not allowing people to speak based upon whether or not you like what they have to say will no longer suffice.
"What we want is what's best for our children. We can no longer stand by idly and allow individuals to tell us what we have to say is not important. All we've asked for is to meet. We want to be part of the solution."
Superintendent Bill Pahl had no comment.