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Investigation finds Decatur Schools equity coordinator’s email about Israel and Gaza violated district policies

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Investigation finds Decatur Schools equity coordinator’s email about Israel and Gaza violated district policies

Teacher Anthony Downer leads a chant during the Truth Walk in Decatur on Saturday, June 11, 2022. The Truth Walk is part of a national Teach Truth Days of Action coordinated by the Zinn Education Project, Black Lives Matter at School and the African American Policy Forum. Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights partnered with K16 TeachTruth, Georgia Youth Justice Coalition, and Georgia Educators for Equity and Justice for the Decatur event. Photo by Dean Hesse.
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Decatur, GA — The City Schools of Decatur equity coordinator who sent an email about Israel and Gaza to central office staff violated district policies and procedures, an investigation found.

The investigation also said that the equity coordinator, Anthony Downer, should be “released from his current position,” but Downer continues to work for the district.

City Schools of Decatur provided the investigation to Decaturish in response to a records request. It was first reported on by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Downer did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He declined to comment to the AJC.

The email sent to central office staff at City Schools of Decatur on Oct. 26 regarding Israel and Gaza was disavowed by school district leaders. The email came days after the start of the Israel-Hamas War. The Oct. 7 terrorist attack by Hamas against Israelis and the deaths of civilians in response to that attack has been a divisive topic, particularly within education.

The email included an attachment titled, “Resources for Learning & Actions to Support Gaza” and says it was, “Compiled by a queer collective of Jews, Palestinians, and allies in Atlanta.”

The attachment might be upsetting for some readers. To see a copy of the attachment, click here.

Several of the links in that document refer to a group called Jewish Voices for Peace. The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta sent an advisory to media outlets, warning that the group does not represent the views of the mainstream global Jewish community.

“As the [Anti-Defamation League] has made clear: JVP is a radical anti-Israel and anti-Zionist activist group that advocates the eradication of Zionism,” the advisory from the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta says. “The spread of JVP’s most inflammatory ideas can help give rise to antisemitism.”

District leaders at the time called the email “insensitive and inappropriate.” It created an uproar in the Decatur community. The investigation shows that leaders began immediately investigating the incident and conducting interviews with Downer, his supervisor and other CSD employees.

Downer’s LinkedIN page describes him as an “Abolitionist Educator-Organizer and Racial Equity and Justice Practitioner.” He’s been part of efforts by CSD to “decolonize” its curriculum. Decolonizing the curriculum is about rethinking, reframing, and reconstructing the current curriculum and expanding notions of educational content, so it doesn’t always elevate one voice, one experience, and one way of being in the world, Downer said at a meeting in 2022.

The investigation found Downer violated the district’s conflict of interest policy, which says, “Employees shall not participate in or influence transactions or proceedings where they have an actual conflict of interest or that could result in the appearance of a conflict of interest. An actual conflict of interest exists when an individual’s private interest interferes with the impartial discharge of public duties.”

“Because this is an institution of learning and CSD does not share his views politically on the conflict, Mr. Downer’s personal opinion or bias was not part of the student focused learning process,” the investigation says.

The investigation found Downer was insubordinate because he did not follow a directive from Superintendent Gyimah Whitaker that the district’s equity work be “student-focused.”

“When Mr. Downer sent this email out, he failed to use professional judgement,” the investigation says. “His lack of professional judgement caused discord within the district and within the community.”

The investigation hints that Whitaker has different priorities than prior superintendents when it comes to the district’s equity work. It notes how in a meeting with the equity team, Whitaker told staff, ‘The shift of student equity would be ‘student focused.’ For example, we have students who don’t necessarily come to school, let’s find out why. Let’s identify barriers. Define equity at a student level. We discipline black students more than we do any other race. How do we fix that? We have to determine why.”

Whitaker told investigators that at the meeting with the equity team, “We talked about how equity would be used going forward, it is to be used student focused.”

The investigation concluded, “Mr. Downer had a meeting with the Superintendent and his supervisor (Dr. Banks) outlining the directions the equity team would be moving towards, which is ‘student focused’ and he failed to follow the directive that was given to him.”

In addition to recommending that the district “release” Downer from his job, the district put some conditions in place if he was to continue in that role.

“If he is to remain in the position, he would need to be given clear guidance and directives on how the Equity Team will align with the ‘student focused’ agenda that has been set forth by the Superintendent,” the investigation says.

It also said any communications by Downer would need to be reviewed and must involve “only approved resources.”

To read the full investigation, click here.

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