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Decatur Superintendent apologizes for ‘Sound of Music’ comments

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Decatur Superintendent apologizes for ‘Sound of Music’ comments

Dr. Maggie Fehrman. Photo by Dean Hesse

Decatur, GA — City Schools of Decatur Superintendent Maggie Fehrman has met with the staff and parents who lead Decatur Performs to discuss her recent comments about the high school’s production of “The Sound of Music.”

In the newsletter, Fehrman conflated the use of swastikas in the play with an incident where a teacher used a racial slur in class. That latter incident prompted a review of how CSD handled the situation.

In the December newsletter, Fehrman only referenced a play and did not identify the play as “The Sound of Music.” Her comments outraged many people who were involved in the play, which had been approved by school staff.

In her most recent letter, she said she now realizes it was a mistake to lump the two situations together.

“Upon reflection, these two situations are different, and both deserved an individualized response,” Fehrman said in the Jan. 20 Friday Follow-Up newsletter. “I understand how coupling them in the newsletter caused conclusions to be drawn that were not intended. I acknowledge and apologize for that.”

In the Dec. 16 newsletter, Fehrman wrote:

On a more serious note, two separate situations at the high school occurred over the past two weeks that involved a racial slur used by a staff member in front of students and the inclusion of a swastika in the student musical. As a white woman and an anti-racist, I believe racial slurs and symbols of oppression are never acceptable in any context. As the superintendent for CSD, I am committed to addressing and interrupting racism where and when I see it.

In her Jan. 20 newsletter, commended the DHS students for their work on the “Sound of Music.”

“I did sneak in to see just a short part of the musical on Dec. 8, and it literally took my breath away,” Fehrman said. “I commend our teachers for their dedication to the arts and theater and for developing that passion in our students.”

“While meeting with staff and parents, I was able to clarify any misunderstood statements and share additional information,” she added. “We also discussed several possible ways for how our Equity and Theater Departments can collaborate to proactively ensure that our theater productions enhance the artistic talents of our students and staff while also honoring multiple perspectives.”

CSD has also hired an independent contractor, Courtlandt Butts of Life Guardian, to assess the district’s response to a teacher who used a racial slur in the classroom.

As first reported in Decaturish, a white male Decatur High teacher was recently disciplined following his use of a racial slur in front of students. The Decatur High students have pushed for more accountability. Students held a walkout on Dec. 16, 2022, and a community town hall soon after.

Decatur High School Principal Rochelle Lofstrand and the teacher involved have been reassigned during the review.

“I am interviewing staff members this week and at that point I’ll review what I have by the end of the week and know more next week,” Fehrman told Decaturish.

The first step of the evaluation includes small group and individual meetings with Butts and various stakeholder groups and teams from DHS.

“In conjunction with Mr. Butts’s evaluations and assessments, the district has launched a formal investigation of the incident and our response to the incident on the school and district levels,” Fehrman said in a letter dated Jan. 13. “As part of that process, I am reviewing a detailed timeline of events. I will also interview those involved in our response to determine what could have been done differently and ensure that future responses build trust through transparency. As superintendent, I take full responsibility for this investigation, and I will ensure that appropriate accountability measures are taken for any misconduct that has occurred. Once the evaluation and investigation are completed, I will share a summary report.”

CSD has not given a timeline for when the investigation will be completed. The goal of the investigation is to help the school district find opportunities for improvement, craft a clear response plan and make sure CSD implements “any needed improvements with fidelity,” Fehrman said.

“I have already drafted a Bias Incident Response Protocol and shared the draft with principals, district leaders, the DHS Black Affinity Group, and Mr. Butts for review,” she said. “After we gather feedback, we will finalize the protocol and ensure all CSD staff are trained on the protocol. This protocol includes ensuring that the process of reporting biased events is straightforward and encouraged.”

To read the full letter, click here.

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