Type to search

Feds probe Decatur Schools’ response to equity coordinator email, Model Arab League participation

Decatur Trending

Feds probe Decatur Schools’ response to equity coordinator email, Model Arab League participation

Elizabeth Wilson School Support Center, City Schools of Decatur. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Decatur, GA — The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has opened an investigation into allegations of discrimination related to City Schools of Decatur’s handling of incidents related to an email sent by an equity coordinator and the high school’s participation in the Model Arab League.

A letter sent to CSD from the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) on Jan. 2 says the office is investigating “whether the district responded to alleged harassment of students based on national origin, including shared Jewish ancestry, in a manner consistent with the requirements of Title VI [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964].”

“City Schools of Decatur is aware of the investigation and has responded to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights,” a district spokesperson said. CSD does not comment on pending investigations and, therefore, cannot provide any further comment at this time.”

The OCR complaint was filed in November 2023, and the most recent date of discrimination was when a decision was made to allow students to participate in the Model Arab League. In December 2023, a spokesperson for CSD said the Model Arab League conference is an extracurricular activity at Decatur High School.

Decatur High was selected to represent Palestine and two other countries. The countries selected — and the research materials used to prepare students — are determined by the conference and are outside the purview of the school district.

“We received concerns from potential participants’ parents about the safety of students participating in the Model Arab League, given the escalation of the conflict in Israel and Gaza,” the 2023 statement from CSD’s spokesperson says. “The shift in involvement in the upcoming conference was based on the district’s responsibility of providing students with opportunities to engage in critical thinking as global citizens within safe and inclusive learning environments. Given that students will be presenting in a public forum and the local impact of the increasing polarization of the conflict in Israel and Gaza, City Schools of Decatur made the decision to allow students to continue their participation in the conference representing the two other MAL assigned countries.”

A letter attached to the complaint said Decatur High should not represent Palestine in the Model Arab League.

“The leaders and founding of the governing bodies of the State of Palestine are based on the elimination of Israel and Jews,” the letter states. “Much of the recent pro-Palestinian rhetoric is anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist, and protests have targeted and intimidated Jews, especially in universities. By representing Palestine, the City Schools of Decatur shows a clear disregard for the equity and inclusion of Jewish students and jeopardizes the safety of Jewish students.”

Some community members at recent school board meetings have said students should have been allowed to represent Palestine.

At the Dec. 12, 2023 school board meeting, Hannah Rogers said the decision not to represent Palestine sends a message “that the perspective of Palestinian people doesn’t matter.”

“When materials are distributed from an Arab-based news source as a means of offering additional perspective on the ongoing war, and that is treated as misconduct or a crime, that too sends a message,” she said.

The OCR complaint filed in November also calls for the school district to remove Anthony Downer from his position as equity coordinator after he sent an email on Oct. 26 to central office staff at CSD regarding Israel and Gaza. School district leaders disavowed the email.

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.”

CSD conducted an internal investigation into the incident and found that Downer violated the district’s conflict of interest policy. The policy states, “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.”

The OCR complaint alleges that the email was “sent intentionally and nefariously with the intent to distribute propaganda for a regional conflict outside of the USA.”

“I emphasize that this email was sent from the very person and department responsible for equity and inclusion,” the complaint says. “Mr. Downer’s email included a section of ‘Actions’ and ‘Resources for Teachers and Teacher Educators.’ The result is that the City of Decatur has provided a strategy for teachers and staff to discriminate against Jewish students. As a result of these actions, Jewish students and families do not feel safe or included in the City of Decatur school system.”

The complaint also claims that teachers in CSD discriminated against Israel and Jewish individuals and that teaching materials were modified to include blood libels against Israel and Jewish people.

“For example, a slide added by [redacted] states that: Israel wants to take over Saudi Arabia [and] that any terrorism against Jews are simple annoyances,” the complaint states. “[Redacted] intentionally and nefariously added terms to the materials to downplay terror attacks against Jews and to rewrite history as to be biased against Jews and Israel.”

It also alleges that a teacher told a Jewish student that “Hitler’s grandma was Jewish. By the matrilineal principles of the Jewish faith, the insinuation is that Hitler was Jewish. This is an old anti-Semitic trope designed to indicate that the worst person in the history of mankind was Jewish, and that a Jew was responsible for the Holocaust,” the complaint says.

To see a copy of the complaint, click here.

Want Decaturish delivered to your inbox every day? Sign up for our free newsletter by clicking here.

If you appreciate our work on this story, please become a paying supporter. For as little as $10 a month, you can help us keep you in the loop about your community.