Oct. 22—Both Ashland Independent's superintendent and high school principal were unaware of a change.org petition circulating as of Thursday afternoon, but both were keenly aware of what prompted it.
Riley Dixon, an Ashland graduate who started the petition, made a social media post on Tuesday about an assignment handed out in her sibling's class. The worksheet was distributed to the all-senior English class of about 18 or 19 students, according to Ashland Blazer High School Principal Jamie Campbell.
The paper, dated 1991, was to be completed as the class prepared to read "Of Mice and Men." It included "unacceptable" terms, said Superintendent Sean Howard.
One portion of the assignment prompted students to supply definitions for words, including "mentally r*******." Two questions at the bottom of the worksheet included the same two-word term.
Campbell said he learned of the assignment on Monday evening while at a district tournament volleyball match. He was appalled, and he immediately addressed the situation with the teacher, he said. The fourth-year principal met with the teacher on Tuesday morning and then addressed the first-period class.
Campbell, who has a background in special education, said he is "intimately aware of these terms and the types of responses these questions are trying to elicit, especially in relationship to 'Of Mice and Men.'"
He said the students were "very mature and very sincerely caring about students with intellectual disabilities" throughout their Tuesday morning discussion.
"I wish I had a little camera on my shoulders," Campbell said. "I was so proud of those students. ... In all the ugliness that came from social media and the pile-on, the conversation inside of that classroom was absolutely fantastic."
Dixon's goal — as stated on change.org — is to raise awareness throughout the community and beyond of Ashland Blazer "sweeping major issues like these under the rug." She wants "the staff, teachers (especially office staff) and any grown adult that helps run Paul G. Blazer" to "stop lying about 'caring for students,' and start taking the blame for harmful interactions such as these."
Campbell said this was an "unfortunate and embarrassing" mistake where hard lessons should be learned.
"It is very clear to see that this was an instance of using an outdated resource without fully reviewing that resource before putting it in students' hands," Campbell said. "... It wasn't reviewed properly."
Howard said he shared in upset parents' emotions regarding this assignment.
"In all fairness, the parents' responses were the same response I had," Howard said.
Campbell reiterated that this should serve as a lesson to teachers not only at Ashland but everywhere.
"You will find teachers all over our commonwealth that are working night and day, trying to find any resource they can find," Campbell said. "This is a really good lesson. We need to hit standards, and we've got to do what's right by our kids."
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