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Dear Decaturish – Decatur Schools have a duty to put children first

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Dear Decaturish – Decatur Schools have a duty to put children first

Kanika Sims. Photo by Dean Hesse.

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Dear Decaturish,

My six-year-old daughter is a brand-new swimmer. She was cold, tired, and afraid to swim in her first Decatur Gators swim meet one early morning last weekend. The combination of those things, plus the fact that her two favorite coaches were not at the swim meet, and neither was I, made her decide that she was not swimming. As a working mom, I was spending my Saturday in the hospital, not poolside. Her Dad was there, but even the best Dad is not Mom. She was crying, refusing to swim, and given her tenacious nature, not budging an inch.  


What made it happen was the community of moms at the pool. I was surprised to receive a video 45 minutes later of my daughter swimming in her heat. She was struggling, but she was swimming. The sound of so many moms calling her name and cheering her on brought tears to my eyes. She stopped a few times, but each time she stopped, she started back and ultimately finished her race to the cheers of the many moms poolside. I heard later that after she competed, she was beaming with pride and giving everyone the most enthusiastic high fives. I cried because although this Mama couldn’t be there, so many Decatur Moms were there cheering my baby on to finish the race. They supported and encouraged her when I could not. Some of the moms I knew. Others, I did not. 


This is why I believe in community with every fiber of my being. More specifically, I believe in THIS community. The city of Decatur is a special place to raise a family and build a life. Our city is amazing because of the people in it and our commitment to do better and be better. We may not always get it right, but people are always trying. Our city is filled with people who volunteer countless hours on committees in the school system and citywide task forces, sharing valuable expertise, with no expectation of anything in return except the promise of a better city that will allow for a better life for their families and others.


Our children are the lifeblood of this city. They should be cherished, protected, challenged, and supported. Hence, the desire to create a special place that harnesses the talents of our children and fosters their creativity.


I’m concerned that what makes this city great is in danger of being lost. Our school system and its leaders have a duty to put our children first and create inclusive environments where they can thrive. I’m not an education expert. My expertise lies elsewhere. Therefore, I would never presume to tell those who are experts in education how to do their jobs. 


However, I will say that the school system and the culture currently being created in City Schools of Decatur (CSD) don’t reflect my values and the values of so many that I know. They certainly don’t reflect the values of moms who cheer the loudest for children who are not even their own. Adults who hold the values of centering children, their voices, and their needs and then meeting them. Currently, there are policies in place in our school system that are inequitable, harmful, discriminatory, and intolerant.


We deserve a school system that is flexible, creative and cares enough to teach all our children, including those with learning differences. These children deserve to go to school with their peers, build relationships, and enjoy the community we live in instead of being shipped out to private schools across metro Atlanta that are willing to meet their needs when our district is not. At the very least, all our children deserve to learn how to read. Unfortunately, our current leadership isn’t prioritizing one of the most basic educational objectives – teaching all children, including those with learning differences (or dyslexia), how to read.


Our leadership supports policies that strip away the funding for IB and AP testing in high school, assuming that most children and their families who take IB and AP classes can afford these testing costs. This is based on the belief that children from families of lower socioeconomic status are not likely to be smart enough and hardworking enough to be in those classrooms. Are we really a community that believes only the affluent have children smart enough to be in AP/IB classes? Are we a community that believes placing additional barriers in front of those who already struggle enough due to their socioeconomic status is the right thing to do? These families have enough to worry about without the additional worry of how they will pay for tests at a public high school.


Our leadership supports archaic, discriminatory dress-code policies in middle school. Policies that traumatize young girls in one of the most tumultuous periods of their lives as they transition from childhood. Our daughters, who are already anxious about their rapidly changing bodies, are made even more anxious by the constant scrutiny of adults. These children have just experienced one of the most traumatic events in our lifetime (the pandemic) and are still recovering. Adolescents and teenagers with increasing rates of mental health challenges due to the pandemic are now being harassed at school instead of supported and taught. 


Reasonable people can agree to disagree about what is considered appropriate attire. Still, I would like to allow the determination of appropriateness to be between a child and their guardians. At the same time, this provides space for administrators and teachers to focus on teaching. This current regime’s lack of empathy in the face of a crappy past couple of years demonstrates the low value they place on the children and families they serve. 


As we consider principles of equity and fairness, girls are targeted more often than boys with dress code violations. Black girls are targeted more than White girls because Black girls tend to be curvier. Children from lower-income families of all ethnicities will also be targeted more because their families are less likely to have the resources to buy more clothes as their adolescent child quickly outgrows all their clothes. This is a problem. Take a world that is already seeping with systemic racism, classism, and misogyny and add policies that will reinforce those biases in the school system. By doing this, our Superintendent is taking away our daughters’ ability and right to go to school daily and not be harassed by administrators and teachers.  


These are all oppressive policies championed by our current Superintendent, Dr. Maggie Ferhman. We are a charter system, one with the capacity to be excellent. However, this will not happen without leadership that values and prioritizes EACH and EVERY ONE of our children. Leadership that treats every child in the system like they would treat their own. We need creative, innovative, progressive leadership willing to push the envelope and adopt a child-first approach to education and policies. Leadership that won’t force children to choose between dignity and begging for money to take IB/AP classes (classes that increase their chances of going to college). Leadership that will make sure all elementary school children can read. Leadership that will spend more time focusing on our daughter’s brains and less time on their bodies. 


The specifics of what I want for my children may be different than what you want for your children. However, I’m sure we can agree that our children matter, and our school system matters. Even if you don’t have children, our school system directly impacts the desirability and quality of our city. This means that the Superintendent who leads our district matters. 


As the School Board embarks on a National Superintendent search, please make time to attend the Superintendent sessions this month, where we have an opportunity, duty and responsibility to let our leaders know what we as community members want in a school system and what we want for the children living in this community. We must let them know that just like the Decatur Moms who cheered on my baby girl, we as a community will be on the sidelines cheering for everyone’s children, not only our own. 


Community Sessions will be held Wednesday, Sept 14th and Sept 28th from 6p-7:30p at Decatur Highschool Cafeteria. 


Please register here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSevWjKGmzMvlxlloEy00RxsYerJLynAEQ-LM2xYLrqCzWNTUQ/viewform


-Kanika M. Sims, Decatur Mom of 3 


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