Decatur Schools superintendent apologies for using ‘white privilege’ to push back during board meeting
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City Schools of Decatur Superintendent David Dude has apologized after things got testy during a Feb. 12 School Board meeting when a group representing black parents raised concerns about treatment of Renfroe Middle School students.
Dude said he inappropriately used his “white privilege” and his position of power to express his frustration at Attorney Mawuli Davis, chair of the Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights. White privilege means that being white confers certain social advantages that a white person may not even be aware of. Those social advantages can unconsciously influence actions and policies that are unfair toward people who aren’t white.
“The anger, frustration, hurt, and pain that our black friends, neighbors, students, and colleagues feel every day is very real and my moment of frustration is nothing compared to that,” Dude said in a blog post following the meeting. “I needed to experience discomfort and accept non-closure, rather than jump right into a defensive posture based on a feeling that they should just trust me and others to do the right thing.”
Disparities in discipline is something black parents in CSD have been talking about for the last few years.
During public comment at the Feb. 12 School Board meeting, Davis read part of a letter sent to the board which raised concerns about incidents at Renfroe Middle School. According to Davis, some 7th grade students were told they could not attend a Black History Month African dancing and drumming performance in the cafeteria on campus without a permission slip; in another incident, other students were told that they could not participate in the Culture of Caring service days off-campus because “they might misbehave.”
During the meeting, Dude responded by saying that he began investigating the incidents as soon as he received the letter. According to Dude, the first issue had been dealt with internally by staff and no students were prevented from attending the performance. His investigation of the second incident has not been concluded.
Dude said, “I have no problem when we do something wrong for us to be called on the carpet for it,” but expressed frustration that no time was allowed for an investigation before it was made public. “We are trying very hard to work with everybody who is involved in this issue.”
School Board member Tasha White, who is black, acted as peacemaker during the meeting.
“It is sometimes frustrating when the community doesn’t think we are doing what we are supposed to be doing,” she said. “But I am also on the other side of this, being the only African American school board member and being a community member and being a parent. The frustration that you’re feeling is one that we feel every day for all of our kids. For African American parents it’s beyond frustrating. It’s painful.”
Dude said he regrets his actions during the meeting.
“I responded to the representatives present at the meeting with frustration,” Dude wrote. “My response was possible due to the presence and role of whiteness. I was safe in sharing my frustration from a position of authority, literally raised up on a podium, with no ability for them to dialogue with me due to the rules of our meetings. It was completely inappropriate for me to use my white privilege and my positional privilege to do that. I apologize unequivocally for doing so. I look forward to apologizing in person, as well, when I meet with those representatives later this week.”
To read his full post, click here.
Writer Sara Amis contributed to this story.