WHITELAND — A national Sikh-American advocacy group is calling for an investigation into what it calls an instance of "severe bias-motivated harassment and physical assault" against a student at Whiteland Community High School this week.
The Sikh Coalition said in a statement that it had been made aware of the situation involving a WCHS senior who is a Sikh and has offered him free legal support.
The group is not identifying the student to protect his privacy.
"Based on our client’s experience and accounts from additional students and others in the community, it seems clear that there is a broad failure at WCHS with respect to bias-based bullying. Aside from justice in this particular case, the Sikh Coalition is calling for a wider examination of how WCHS officials handle these kinds of issues," the coalition said in a statement.
According to the coalition, a group of students began filming the student and other Punjabi students while they were eating lunch in the school cafeteria and made statements toward them including “Why do you wear these turbans” and “Why are you here?”.
The student tried to prevent the group from filming, at which point, the coalition says, they physically assaulted him and made racist remarks.
The coalition said the student was then checked for injuries and later suspended, which Clark-Pleasant Community School Corporation confirms.
Rick Hightower, a spokesman for the district, said he was notified that the Sikh student and all others involved in the altercation were suspended.
The duration of the suspensions were not immediately made clear.
The district said in a statement Friday that school administrators and local law enforcement are continuing to gather information, and that Superintendent Patrick Spray has reached out to the Sikh community to start a dialogue.
"Clark-Pleasant Schools wants everyone in the school community to know that we will not tolerate any type of racism, bigotry violence or discrimination in our schools and we have worked tirelessly to bring about a culture that supports diversity, equity and inclusion within the school district," the statement reads.
"The superintendent's office has reached out to several department heads for input that will help all students better understand The Warrior Way which is to Be Responsible, Be Respectful and Be Safe!"
A previous statement from the district states that comments made on the altercation via social media were "exaggerated and do not reflect the facts of what happened."
Sikh Coalition Legal Director Amrith Kaur Aakre said the coalition believes there is a pattern of bullying against Punjabi Sikh students, especially those wearing turbans, at WCHS.
"We expect officials from the school to address this concern, rescind our client’s suspension and provide him with tutoring for the instruction he has now missed, and share a plan for the safety of him and other students like him," she said.
The Sikh Coalition asked that the public respect the student's privacy and has shared the following statement on his behalf:
“I am shaken by what happened to me, and frustrated that I am being punished for being targeted and beaten. To attack another person’s faith — to strike at my turban — is completely unacceptable. No one should have to face that threat anywhere, let alone at school.”