Overland students plan Monday ‘blackout’ to support teacher under fire for alleged racist conduct

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AURORA  | Overland High School students plan to walk out of classes Monday in support of a popular social studies teacher accused of saying the “N word” and other racist conduct — before Cherry Creek School District officials recommend his firing.

Jay Bennish taught at Overland for more than two decades until he said Cherry Creek schools placed him on paid leave in August. Since then, the controversy has drummed up support  from more than 1,000 current and former students for his reinstatement.

Jay Bennish

Bennish, who is white, has co-sponsored the Black Student Alliance for about 15 years and was an invaluable mentor and instructor for black students at Overland, former students said while disputing the allegations against him.

Bennish also disputes ever saying the N-word or acting in a racist fashion against students.

District officials have been investigating whether to terminate Bennish.

“His alleged actions are not in line with the values of the Cherry Creek School District,” district officials wrote in a letter to the school community last month.

The district has not detailed who made the allegations, or specifically what they are.

District staff will recommend the school board should vote to fire Bennish Monday night, said Abbe Smith, a district spokeswoman.

Students aim to ditch classes in favor of Bennish Monday in what has been dubbed the the “Blackout for Bennish.”  Students plan to rally at a flagpole Monday at 10:10 a.m. on Overland’s campus, wearing black and their “N Word” shirts, according to the rally flyer.

The shirts themselves are part of the district’s allegations against Bennish. For years, BSA members made and distributed shirts reading “Who You Calling N****?!,” former students have said.

Officials say Bennish distributed the shirts, which current and former students say they have long worn at Overland. Precious Jarrett, a former co-President of BSA now studying at Howard University, said Bennish did not make the t-shirts nor distribute them and was hardly present as an advisor to the club. She also said the shirts weren’t racist.

“How are you going to tell me something is racist against myself?” said Jarrett, who is black. “I don’t get it.”

Jarrett said Bennish was a longtime supporter of black students and an advocate for racial justice.

She added the walkout aims to spread awareness of the public board meeting, where members of the public can address school and district officials.

Bennish garnered national headlines in 2006 when he was the center of a controversy over talking in class about the parallels between comments made by former President George W. Bush and Adolph Hitler. Bennish survived that storm.

The board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 10 at Polton Elementary School, 2985 S. Oakland Street, Aurora.