Investigation finds divisions but no discrimination at North Atlanta High

North Atlanta High School suffered from “a climate of racial tension,” but educators didn’t discriminate by race, according to an investigative report released Friday.

The 166-page report delved into a myriad of complaints, which parents suspected was the motive behind the shake-up of top leadership at the school last fall.

The Atlanta Public Schools internal investigation looked into allegations that black students were singled out for discipline, given lower grades and discouraged from entering the International Studies/International Baccalaureate diploma program.

Investigators also examined complaints that black students were excluded from a recruiting event held by Harvard University, and that white students had their grades changed to ensure they’d be eligible for the HOPE Scholarship.

None of those claims was substantiated, the report said.

“Even though there was no unlawful conduct relative to race, the campus experienced a ‘racial divide’ in its perception of race discrimination,” the report said.

Two-thirds of black students interviewed believed discrimination existed, the report said, compared with 8 percent of white students.

The report concluded that the perception “should not be ignored. To do so would severely harm students who have bravely asserted their claims.”

The report, which was obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution under the Georgia Open Records Act, said the school system received complaints about North Atlanta High over a two-year period, with the majority coming in fall 2012. In October of that year, Superintendent Erroll Davis removed the school’s principal, Mark MyGrant, and his leadership team. MyGrant was already planning to retire.

The release of the report came after more than a week of controversy surrounding MyGrant’s successor, Howard “Gene” Taylor.

After 11 months leading the school, Taylor announced his resignation Sept. 13. On the same day, Gwinnett County school officials announced he’d become principal at Berkmar High School. On Monday, Davis promoted Taylor to an APS regional director position. But the Atlanta school board overturned that action the next day. On Thursday, Taylor said he would stay on as North Atlanta’s principal after Davis listened to his concerns about micromanagement from the central office.

Davis said in a statement Friday that the investigation into complaints at North Atlanta was necessary, but showed no laws were broken.

Davis said Taylor has already begun to work on the issues. “We are confident that we can all return to the business of educating children,” he said.

Parent Cynthia Briscoe Brown said the report strengthened her suspicions that MyGrant wasn’t removed because of academics, as Davis has said, but because of the racism accusations.

“The argument about academics simply didn’t hold water … given the timing of the investigation, the allegations of racism and the removal of the administrative team,” said Brown, a candidate for the school board whose son is a senior at North Atlanta High.

MyGrant didn’t return a phone message seeking comment.

“Some good, hard-working educators last year were wrongly singled out and were smeared with the allegations,” said state Rep. Ed Lindsey, R-Atlanta, a longtime member of the House Education Committee and a candidate for Congress. “I’m glad to see their names were cleared from Principal MyGrant on down.”

APS launched the investigation after hearing complaints from parents, students and others about systematic racial discrimination and grading improprieties. Among 114 students interviewed, 43 complained that minority students were discriminated against based on race, the report said.

A majority of students interviewed said they believed learning communities, including the International Studies program, were segregated based on race, the report said. Students said the International Studies program was mainly white, the business program was mainly Hispanic and the performing arts program was mainly black.

But data compiled by the investigation about the races of students in each program showed 53 percent of students in the International Studies program were minorities.

The investigation did find evidence that school policy was violated when teachers were routinely late entering grades and students had to resubmit work that was lost or misplaced by teachers.

Allison Ferguson, mother of a ninth grader at North Atlanta High, said she’s “thrilled” to hear that APS staff found there was no foundation for the allegations of racism.

She said she never thought anything like that was going on.

“My child is having a positive experience, and all his friends are, and I’m confident that will continue,” Ferguson said. “I can’t say enough good things about what’s going on there.”

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