Two parents are calling for administrators to step down at their children’s former school, Columbus Montessori Education Center. They argue racial bias played a role in how they and their kids were treated.
The problems started late last year. Megan Torres’ son came home complaining other students were bullying him. Initially, Torres thought it might blow over, but it didn’t.
“He has the marks still on his chest from when he was stabbed with a pencil,” Torres says. “He was punched in the genitals. And so the time came for me to have a meeting with administration, say hey, how can we go ahead and create a plan to make sure not just my kid is safe—because it never just happens to one kiddo—but how can we make sure that all the kiddos are safe.”
Columbus Montessori is on the city's East Side, nestled in between Bexley and Whitehall. Administrators refused interviews for this story. The school’s board provided a written statement saying privacy concerns keep them from commenting on specific cases.
Torres says meetings with school leaders were tense. After a classroom observation fell through, she had a confrontation with an administrator named Rekha Kohli. Torres wanted to tell her son the visit was postponed, but she says Kohli didn’t want her to disrupt the class.
According to Torres, Kohli called her "angry" and "mean," which she interpreted as coded language.
“I can’t remember what she’s saying,” Torres recalls. “But again, I bring up the whole, that’s what we’re going to do? We’re going to do the whole angry black woman stereotype? I don’t appreciate it, and I tell her, ‘Way to uphold white supremacy.’"
"And as soon as those words came out, I knew there was going to be a shift," she continues. "I didn’t think the shift would include my son’s enrollment contract being ended the same day.”
Columbus Montessori kicked out Torres' son, which meant he had to finish the school year elsewhere. In the process, he lost access to a grant that helps cover his tuition.
Another parent, Janelle Faison, pulled her daughter from the school. Faison says executive director Jamie Gottesman put her daughter in timeout in a separate, closed room.
“I tried to open the door,” Faison says. “And I saw that the door was locked, I couldn’t gain access. So I knocked on the door, and Ms. Gottesman opened the door and I walked in and was kind of blown that they were in this room.”
According to Faison, her daughter had a tantrum and Gottesman said a separate room may help her calm down.
The school’s handbook adopts state rules, which prohibit confining children in a locked room or enclosed area. The practice is prohibited by the Ohio Revised Code as well.
A few days later, Faison asked if she was missing something behind her daughter’s behavior. She says Gottesman suggested the problem might be the man she was dating, and then compared Faison to another single parent she had known.
“I felt that to be another form of judgement,” Faison says. “And then because she had brought up the mother’s race, that was again irrelevant to the conversation.”
In its written statement, the school’s board says an investigation by the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services cleared the faculty and staff of wrongdoing. An internal investigation conducted by the board reached the same conclusion.
Faison and Torres’ campaign calling for anti-bullying and anti-racism training appeared to have prompted action early last month. In a press release, the American Montessori Society announced plans to institute new training and curriculum, and to work with Ohio State’s Kirwan Institute For the Study of Race and Ethnicity to conduct an equity assessment at the school.
AMS has since removed from its website that statement, which also claimed it would engage the entire staff "in Kirwin-created anti-bias/anti-racism training" and create a new school counselor position.
In its own statement, Kirwan acknowledges it provided a proposal to the school but hadn’t reached an agreement, insisting that “The Kirwan Institute is not engaged in the project with Columbus Montessori Education Center.”