Decatur School Board discusses racial inequality, gender identity policy, new school names

Posted by Decaturish.com October 9, 2018

City Schools of Decatur Board of Education: (left to right) Garrett Goebel, Vice Chair Tasha White, Superintendent Dr. David Dude, Chair Lewis Jones, Annie Caiola, and Heather Tell.

By Sara Amis, contributor

The October 9 City Schools of Decatur School Board meeting began with a moment of silence for Miles Jenness, a Winnona Park kindergarten student who died from injuries sustained in a car accident last month.

The Spotlight on Glenwood Elementary included a presentation on early intervention programs intended to prevent achievement gaps from widening over time.

Public comments were mainly focused on the ongoing discussion of racial inequality in City Schools of Decatur that was also a focus of last month’s meeting.  Several students from Decatur High School shared their own experiences, including Jameria Durden, Daxton Pettus, and Darius Thompson, who described going unrecognized for achievements, being ignored by teachers, and being insulted and unfairly singled out for low scores on a test. After overhearing a close friend telling racist jokes, Sulaiman Rashid left JROTC because “I felt I was not being respected.”

Parents and community members spoke in support of the students and the petition circulated by Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights. Phillip Cuffey said, “I want to make sure that the children coming up behind my children have the best opportunity for achievement, the best opportunity for success, and the best opportunity for fairness and equity.”  Clare Schexnyder spoke of hearing her child describing incidents at school and said, “I want to make sure that we protect each and every child, no matter what color, what gender identity they are.”

A Student Achievement Report isolated race and economic disadvantage as factors correlated with an achievement gap between black students and other groups.  Board member Tasha White connected the statistics to the stories related by students during public comments.

“If you ask any African American adult, we have all had those experiences,” she said. “We just hope and pray that our children won’t have to. I think if you address those incidents, the numbers will take care of themselves.”

Proposals for naming the new 3-4-5 elementary school on Talley Street will be accepted from the public until Nov. 9. Among the 60 proposals received so far, “Schooly McSchoolface” has already been suggested. New names for the Talley Street school, the 4/5 academy on Fifth Avenue, and the City Schools of Decatur Central Office will be considered at the December school board meeting.

Possible changes to the School Board Policy Manual were discussed. Under the proposed changes, public comment will be restricted to community members and others with a connection to the school system.  Gender identity is already included in the existing non-discrimination statement, but a new section under Administrative Regulations reads: “Gender Identity Regulations, AR 2.2 (b)(3), to ensure that all students are treated in a manner consistent with their gender identity and to ensure that reasonable accommodations are provided to protect interests of all students.”

“In this manual we’ve identified where we want to make sure we have administrative regulations,” said Board Chair Lewis Jones, “and one of the regulations is a statement on gender identity that affirmatively supports that we address a student through the gender they identify with.”

Superintendent David Dude added, “There is no change in the practice of what we’re doing right now. This is just a direction to me to document that practice.”

When asked if the new language was a response to the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights investigation of the district, he said, “It is not. It’s just the continuing process of getting all our policies in place.”

The proposed policy changes will be voted on at the next school board meeting.

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