In emails Atlanta Public Schools board members disagree how to investigate allegations of racism at North Atlanta

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In emails Atlanta Public Schools board members disagree how to investigate allegations of racism at North Atlanta

NORTH ATLANTA HIGH SCHOOL

Number of students: 1,233

Racial makeup: 55 percent African-American, 22 percent white, 16 percent Hispanic, 7 percent other

Average SAT score: 1439

Weeks before Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Erroll Davis replaced six key administrators at North Atlanta High, two school board members exchanged emails over parents’ complaints of “institutional racism” at the school and how to deal with it.

In the emails obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through an open records request, school board chairman Reuben McDaniel and District 4 board member Nancy Meister disagreed over how to investigate the allegations.

Davis said Tuesday the district gets allegations of racism frequently. In this latest case, the district reviewed the allegation and decided not to investigate. It was passed along to the principal, he said.

APS officials swept into North Atlanta High on Oct. 5 and replaced the interim principal, Mark MyGrant, and five administrators. The upheaval sparked protests from parents and teachers — and triggered rumors that the shakeup was tied to alleged racism at the school.

Davis defended the staff moves by saying the school for years has been underperforming academically.

“It’s clear nothing much has been done about (performance issues), or if something has been done, it’s been done ineffectively by the leadership team,” Davis said this week.

“I had to ask myself, in an environment that has shown itself to be difficult to achieve change, and where people are more seemingly wed to people than to outcomes, would those changes be easy to make for an incoming principal? And I decided if there’s a bullet to be taken, I’ll take it,” Davis said. “I’m not trying to be a martyr, but I wanted him (new principal Howard ‘Gene’ Taylor) to have the best chance to get moving quickly to turn things around.”

Taylor will start at North Atlanta High on Oct. 29.

Emails indicate the board and APS officials had been concerned about the administration of the school since late July or early August.

On Aug. 18, MyGrant emailed Davis that he had investigated anonymous allegations that a teacher about to be hired, Amy Durham, was accused of racism for not having a reception for a black student who will be attending Harvard University.

“I am not sure how to respond to the racist comment other than to say that I have worked with her [Durham] for 10 years and have never had any concerns or complaints,” MyGrant wrote.

Three days later McDaniel sent an email to Associate Superintendent Steve Smith, asking him to collect data from North Atlanta that breaks down the school’s graduation rates, and other performance metrics, by race. He asked for an ethnic breakdown of teachers and staff who were recommended for positions by interim principal MyGrant.

“I think it is critical that we understand these issues as we go through the principal selection process so that we can factor in some of the skills required to address the racial issues at North Atlanta in our new leadership,” McDaniel wrote.

Meister responded in an email 35 minutes later that the analytical search for evidence of racism shouldn’t be focused just on North Atlanta, which is in her district. “We should have this conducted for all high schools across the district. This will allow us to have an equitable and fair analysis across all schools,” Meister wrote.

McDaniel wrote back that he agreed gathering data across the district “would be interesting,” but not practical. He wrote: “My purpose for requesting the data is to begin to understand statistically the evidence I have received from parents at North Atlanta indicating that we have a problem there that is based in an institutional racism mentality.”

Both board members said in an interview last week that the disagreement didn’t affect the decision to replace the school’s leadership. McDaniel said he supported the change, while Meister wanted the key staff reinstated so the new principal can make a determination about their employment.

Durham quit her position at North Atlanta in a resignation letter dated Oct. 10. She taught journalism and language arts at the school for two and a half months while waiting for the board to give her a teaching contract, which it never did. She wrote in her resignation letter that she was never officially hired because of “outstanding questions” about her.

She said in an interview Tuesday that the school didn’t host receptions for students accepted to prestigious schools, or any schools, just in the interest of fairness. She said she never had a chance to confront her accusers to clear her name. She said she was never questioned by APS officials about the accusation, so she doesn’t believe there was an investigation. She said she has asked APS for weeks for documents related to the accusations, but has gotten no response.

She said she has not talked to superintendent Davis about it. But she doubts it would make a difference.

“The law says you can’t yell ‘fire’ in a crowded movie theater,” she said. “But at APS I guess you can walk in and yell ‘racist’ and leave the room, and nobody does anything about it.”

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