In response to the passage of House Bill 3409, the OSAA rewrote rules on sportsmanship and crowd control. (Photo by Jon Olson)
In response to the passage of House Bill 3409, the OSAA rewrote rules on sportsmanship and crowd control. (Photo by Jon Olson)

The OSAA took another important step this week in providing resources for schools to promote racial equity and address incidents of discrimination at events.

In a Wednesday release to schools, the OSAA made available a 20-minute online course – Racial Equity in School Athletics and Activities Training – that is intended to create dialogue that will help improve the experience for all participants, in particular those of color.

“This is not just checking a box and saying, 'Now you're equity trained,'” said KT Emerson, OSAA assistant executive director who is helping to lead the association's efforts. “This is just the beginning of the conversations that need to keep moving forward in school districts, and within schools, to make sure that our students of color feel supported as they're playing.”

The training -- available on the “Training and Resources” page on the OSAA website -- includes baseline terminology, preparation strategies for events, program management and ways to interrupt when an incident of racial discrimination occurs. It is intended as a resource for schools and is not required, but rather is meant to support existing district-level initiatives.

"This is to walk hand-in-hand with that,” Emerson said. “For districts that don't have any, it's a starting point for conversations in the athletics world.”

Executive director Peter Weber said: "The OSAA took action to create this training course as part of our ongoing commitment to provide a safe and inclusive environment for all at interscholastic events. We recognize the significant role high school activities can play in bringing our communities together.’

Among the topics addressed in the training are understanding biases, interrupting micro-aggressions and how to recognize incidents and rectify them in the moment.

From the OSAA release:

“As a state, we have had incidents of racial transgressions that have led to a call for action. …

“We believe that at the core of this work is awareness and education which will lead to the eradication of racial transgressions during high school events.

“Our students deserve the ability to compete without feeling discriminated against or fearful of how they will be treated upon arrival, during an event and after an event.”

House Bill 3409, which went into effect in Sept. 2019, provided an impetus to act. With its passage, school districts can't be members of an interscholastic association unless that body has a process to sanction discriminatory behavior at events.

The OSAA instituted a process – rewriting its Rule 3, regarding sportsmanship and crowd control – and now is focusing on educating schools on how to follow it. Emerson said there is a “heightened awareness” about discriminatory behavior in the state since HB 3409 passed, but following through on complaints is essential.

“Every athletic director we work with has the right intentions, but interrupting an act of discrimination is hard,” Emerson said. “It's difficult, it's messy, it's contentious. It's a very stressful situation.

“So we're trying to help give tools to our athletic directors and coaches to be able to know how to get through these incidents that occur, with some grace and with some structure behind them, to support their actions.”

The OSAA has developed training and resources for schools in a collaborative effort with the Oregon Department of Education (ODE), Coalition of Oregon School Administrators (COSA), Oregon School Boards Association (OSBA), Oregon Association of Student Councils (OASC) and Oregon Educators Association (OEA).

Community partners – including students, educators and administrators – also were integral to the effort.

In addition to equity training, the OSAA is preparing to introduce the STAR Initiative (safety, tolerance, acceptance and respect) when contests begin for 2020-21. It provides a model for racial equity awareness, action and resources on how to prepare for, educate and interrupt discriminatory behaviors occurring during events.

“As a coach, I'll be able to point at something when my kid is not being respectful – or whatever it might be – and say, 'These are the basics of what I'm expecting of you,'” Emerson said.

The OSAA Foundation will offer $2,000 grants for schools to purchase their own resources for training. The foundation is “looking for innovative ideas from schools about the engagement of equity and diversity training with their students, their staff and their communities,” according to the release.

Emerson said much was learned from incidents that happened in the past year, and lauded the communication between the schools in their responses. She is hopeful that the training will turn the focus from reactive to proactive.

“Kids should feel safe and welcome in every event they attend,” Emerson said. “We should have those expectations.”