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Decatur superintendent outlines plan to repair damage from mask comment

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Decatur superintendent outlines plan to repair damage from mask comment

Dr. Maggie Fehrman. Photo by Dean Hesse

Decatur, GA — After issuing an apology for a quote regarding a pending decision about City Schools of Decatur’s mask policy, Superintendent Maggie Fehrman has laid out a detailed plan for how she intends to try and repair the harm the comment caused to the CSD community.

In a recent Decaturish article, Fehrman was asked about whether the district was considering ending the mask policy following new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She said, “We feel not a sufficient number have been vaccinated, and we don’t want the unvaccinated people, particularly staff and students of color who have chosen not to get vaccinated, to feel they’re more restricted.

She then apologized for the comment about vaccinations and people of color, pledging to do everything she could to mitigate the harm her comment caused.

On Thursday, May 20, Fehrman wrote a letter to the CSD community outlining how she plans to work to do better. The letter was part of her Friday Follow-Up sent on Friday, May 21. Her apology was the first step in the journey she must take to repair the harm caused, the statement said.

“I spent the weekend in deep reflection and I realize that I allowed competing priorities to take priority over my commitment to achieving equitable outcomes for our students” Fehrman said. “I have high standards for my actions and I promise the CSD community that no one is more disappointed in my actions than I am in myself.”

“As a white woman, my skin color affords the privilege to not think about race every day,” she added. “As I prioritize that knowledge, I am taking this misstep as a learning experience to refocus my heart, mind, and work on renewing my commitment and work towards equitable outcomes for the CSD community. Throughout my three years in CSD, I have dedicated my work to bringing about equitable outcomes and it is time to take this to the next level.”

Fehrman will post the plan on the CSD Equity Dashboard with regular updates for anyone who wishes to follower her progress. She goes into this work knowing that she may never fully regain the trust from some community members, she said.

Fehrman’s plan outlines six action steps that are adapted from “White Supremacy Culture: Change Work” by Tema Okun. She further breaks down those action steps with specific actions she will take.

The plan starts with listen and read to deepen and expand her understanding of the effects and impacts of racism. Her initial reading includes the books “Me and White Supremacy” by Layla Saad and “How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi.

“I have scheduled times on my calendar throughout the next week and over the summer to provide an open space for any CSD staff member, student, parent, and community member to share with me how my words affected, impacted and harmed them,” Fehrman said.

The next step is reflect which includes a reflection journal for daily reflection and increased understanding of the role Fehrman plays in perpetuating racism as a white woman in a high level leadership position and how she can disrupt that. Fehrman plans to meet monthly with Lillie Huddleston, CSD’s executive director of equity and student support. She will use the CCAR protocol to discuss her learning and what actions she has taken, the plan says.

The third step is remembering.

“Review, reflect, and remember how my previous actions, thoughts, and beliefs upheld racism systems and ideals and continue to identify internalized racial attitudes I have about people of color through my journaling and coaching sessions,” Fehrman said.

Another step is to take risks to challenge racism and interrupt racial stereotypes. Part of the step will be to identify racist policies and procedures in the district and to create solid action plans to dismantle those policies. The district will update its grievance policy and provide a clear route to submit grievances, including those against the superintendent and the highest levels of leadership.

“Analyze disaggregated student achievement and discipline data monthly at the school and teacher level and engage in courageous conversations and dialogue with district and school leaders when our students of color continue to experience the opportunity gap over time,” Fehrman said.

The next step is rejection and understanding that the Black, Indigenous and people of color community is justified in their feelings and Fehrman accepts that the works to repair any harm caused is hers, she said.

“Model, that as a white woman I must own the responsibility to repair the harm I caused, for staff and students in CSD so others members of the white community,” Fehrman said. “Model that when mistakes are made these are opportunities for my personal growth, while understanding that BIPOC are justified in their feelings of being harmed.”

The last step is relationships and increasing the opportunities to bring BIPOC to the table when decisions are being made. This step also includes using the racial equity tool to provide transparency about policy and financial decisions and hiring decisions.

Fehrman additionally plans to regularly meet with community organizations such as the City Schools of Decatur Black Parent Alliance, the Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights, the Black Student Union, the DHS Black Staff Affinity Group and others.

Fehrman noted at the end of the plan that she will personally pay for any additional costs incurred to complete this plan.

The full plan can be found here.

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