Terry Bilbo, Journal-Star (Peoria, Ill.), April 16, 2006
Up to the point a fourth-grader brought a box cutter to school and threatened to kill their daughter, Joe and Jessica Sweeney wanted to give Glen Oak Primary School a chance.
“‘This is our neighborhood. This is where we live. Let’s give the public schools a shot,’” is the way Joe describes their reasoning. “We’ve lived here six years. Let’s give it a shot.”
So they transferred 9-year-old Alexis and 8-year-old Jacob out of Peoria Christian School — which was “nice, but too expensive” — and opted for Glen Oak last September.
From the beginning, it was uncomfortable. Both children were taunted with racial slurs, particularly Alexis. The Sweeneys tried to make this a life lesson, coaching their kids to respond appropriately. They advised the children to report any threats or poor treatment to teachers, assuming the adults were addressing the problems. And they prayed their kids were simply learning the uncomfortable truth that life can be tough. But the incidents didn’t stop, despite a lot of back-and-forth with the school. The kids kept their grades up, but they got pretty quiet.
In mid-March, matters came to a head during an after-school program. Alexis was alone in a bathroom when she was threatened by three other girls. Jessica went to the principal, who brought the ringleader in and made her apologize. Days later, the same girl was back — with a box cutter — threatening to kill Alexis. On the ride home after that incident, Jacob displayed a large bruise on his arm from being shoved to the ground and called a “stupid white boy.”
Jessica pulled both kids out of the school immediately.
“I’m done,” she says. “I’m done putting her life at risk because you won’t do anything.”
“This is beyond standard fourth-grade stuff,” agrees Joe. “This is becoming racial now. They’re not going back.”
“It’s racial harassment. It’s just the other way,” says Joe. “There needs to be a zero-tolerance policy of any type of harassment.”