The following letter to the editor appeared on September 14, 2020 on Decaturish.com. Link directly to that post by clicking here.
The parents of Black children in the public school district of City Schools of Decatur (CSD) are frustrated. We’re frustrated by the hatred spewed at Black children by white classmates; by the recurring threats to Black children’s safety; by the lack of transparency in how schools in the District and the City Schools of Decatur Board of Education are responding to recent racist acts by white students; frustrated by the Board of Education’s failure to give parents or children any reassurance as to the future of our children’s security; and by the District’s willingness to prioritize white privacy over Black dignity. Our children are equally affected. Many have shared with CSD how they have been impacted. Some have protested. Others have taken to social media to tell their stories about experiencing racism at school (see @blackatrenfroe and @blackatdhs on Instagram). Ultimately, this collective frustration has galvanized us, the parents of Black children, in particular, to write this letter, organize, and demand change.
Recent articles in local media sources highlighted the unsatisfactory response and lack of transparency by the City Schools of Decatur in disciplining multiple white Decatur High students who created and posted racist videos in April and May 2020. These videos are not the only instances of white students in CSD asserting their privilege and threatening the personal safety of Black people in Decatur with impunity. However, to date, there has been little, if any, comprehensive coverage of how we, the parents of Black children within the District, really feel about this behavior and these events. Here is our perspective.
Parents of Black children here are loving mothers and fathers, proud leaders, accomplished professionals, and active citizens who humbly invest our significant talents into our City of Decatur schools. Over the years, we have served on the Board of Education, as teachers and administrators within the District, and on every school’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA). We’ve served as PTA Presidents, Communications Coordinators, Spirit Wear Chairs, Garden Chairs, and everything in between. We’ve worked tirelessly on School Leadership Teams (SLT); served as members of SEPTA (Special Education PTA); chaired Diversity, Education & Inclusion Committees; served as Bulldog Boosters; acted as Read-A-Thon fundraisers; managed book fairs; functioned as ‘room parents;’ jumped in as chaperones; organized field days; and even volunteered as energetic ‘Mystery Readers.’
Recently, some of us formed the City Schools of Decatur Black Parents Alliance, or CSDBPA, to continue our service to the community. Conceived in June 2020, CSDBPA has over 150 members and is actively engaged in multiple initiatives aimed at making it clear that we care deeply about our Black children’s dignity, treatment, safety and success. The mission of CSD BPA is:
“…to provide a safe space for our parents to share issues, concerns, highlight ideas, and formulate action plans regarding keeping the CSD administration, school board, and faculty responsible and accountable to the health, safety and success of our children.”
CSD BPA is concerned about the broken community bonds and the division created by the recent racist behavior of some white CSD students. They sow doubt, distrust and discord among us. We believe that the message and tone in these videos is shameful and damaging to our whole community. We expect white parents in our city to help their children make the connection that they are part of something bigger than just themselves, and some have made strides in this arena. We are part of a multicultural and welcoming community that is committed to diversity, equity, inclusion and engagement, ascribes dignity to each and every individual, and demands mutual respect for all of its citizens.
CSDBPA is concerned that privacy laws, like the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, unintentionally (or intentionally) serve as an obstacle to credibility within the District. When it comes to these types of racist acts, parents of Black children are forced to question our children’s safety in order to protect the privacy of others. Regarding our questions about the repercussions of threats and insults to our children, indirect and insufficient scapegoat policies that circumvent transparency are unacceptable. Without clarity of consequences, we are hard-pressed to believe that the District maintains an “equity lens.” Such a system of secrecy conflicts with the District’s efforts to help build students who are “…internationally minded people who recognize their common humanity…[and] help create a better and more peaceful world” (see Board of Education Policy 1.4.A). A grave imbalance of power exists when a white child’s privacy rights are protected at the expense of any Black child’s safety. We have no way to trust that this, or worse, won’t happen again. We have no reassurance from CSD that other white children will know the consequence that awaits them, should they act on their racial animus. NO evidence is available to convince our children that CSD will protect them going forward. If disciplinary actions taken against students who make racist threats cannot or will not be made public, then the Board should at least notify all parents of what will be different going forward, and everyone will know exactly what to expect.
Lastly, CSDBPA is concerned that the District’s failure to administer appropriate discipline sets a poor and dangerous precedent. The District’s historical lack of candor, opaque policies and double standards with regards to discipline and race are equally disappointing. The disparity in discipline data among white students and students of color in Decatur is well known. CSD commissioned Thomas P. Miller & Associates to research and report on these disparities. Their data alarmingly shows an overwhelming difference in numbers of behavioral incidents and level of punishment given to Black students (more) versus their white students (less). According to recent data from the U.S. Department of Education, black children are 3.6 times more likely to be suspended from preschool than white children. Put another way, black children account for roughly 19 percent of all preschoolers, but nearly half of preschoolers who get suspended. Even racial bias training for teachers is insufficient for social change, according to this article from the Western States Scenter’s Dismantling Racism Project. Given the definitive data, it is incumbent upon the District to ensure equal and just consequences for inappropriate behavior.
A summary of priorities for the District to investigate and resolve include the following:
– Consideration and discussion, with public input, of a “No Tolerance” policy in the Student Code of Conduct for racist offenses
– Statement of provisions in the Code of Conduct that such offenses will automatically be treated as Level 5 offenses
– Clarification of the discretionary role of administrators in adjudicating race-based offenses
– Public evaluation and revision of school-specific policies, to include detailed lists of student behaviors and associated responses that are appropriate for the age and maturity level of the students that attend their school
– Establishment of a process and system for tracking and publishing publicly, anonymously, in the aggregate and annually all race-based offenses
– Delivery of professional mandatory anti-racist, unconscious bias, and inclusion training for all administrators and teachers, with availability for all parents and students in the District
– An ongoing, transparent review and corresponding revision of the Student Code of Conduct and Restorative Practices Handbook (most recently updated August 2020) to clearly address the consequences of threats, harassment and other objectionable behavior, whether online, on video, in-writing or in-person
The CSD Black Parents Alliance is prepared to collaborate with the CSD administration and teachers accountable to us and our children. We expect that the District engage in a public and community-wide discussion about these issues. We look forward to working with the District, other parents, community organizations and students to resolve this racial divide.
Carmen Sulton, Executive Director/Chairperson
India Epps, 1st Vice President
Okera Hanshaw, VP – Communications & Membership
Toronnia Stevens, VP – Finance
Kanika Sims, VP – Community Outreach
Ashleigh Hamilton, 2nd VP – Social Media