White parents fear black schools? Georgia teacher speaks her mind

An Atlanta-area English teacher is getting national attention for calling out white parents for shying away from public schools that are “too black.”

Abby Norman wrote in the Huffington Post last week about her white neighbors and friends going to great lengths to avoid the DeKalb County elementary school where her daughter attends kindergarten:

“Behind all the test score talk, the opportunity mumbo jumbo that people lead with, I feel like what is actually being said, and what is never being said is this: That school is too black.”

Norman, who works for another local school district, said her opinions are her own — not her employer’s.

She spoke with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week.

Q: You’re levying some serious charges against your neighbors. How do you know they think the local school is “too black” for their kids?

A: You could say that I don’t know that because they have never explicitly said that. They will say, “Oh, do you feel safe there?” It’s all very coded language.

I think that’s the way that we talk about race in schools. And I think the reason my article has exploded is because I said it. People are “not saying it” all over the place, but it seems like that is what we’re talking about.

Q: What made you and your husband decide to send your daughter to your local school? (Norman asked the AJC not to name the school in order to “protect the school.”)

A: We had made the decision from the moment we moved in, from before we had kids, that we were going to send our children to the neighborhood school. I believe that there are enough resources in America that every school could be amazing. But those resources are not being given in a way that makes all schools successful. Because of the way that school funding shakes down and because of school choice, often the parents with the most resources choose to go to a private school or to go to a charter school or to drive somewhere where the bus won’t go.

Q: Are you sacrificing your daughter’s education for the greater good?

A: No. Everything that I’ve read says that your individual child’s test score does not go down if they go to a school with low test scores. I am uniquely preparing my child to live in a diverse world.

Q: Does your school’s state rating — an “F” on Georgia’s latest school report cards — give you pause?

A: It doesn’t. I have always found it to be true that the ratings do not represent very well the actual school. I think test scores mostly predict the socioeconomic status of the school.

Q: Are you saying that all parents should send their children to their local, traditional public school?

A: No. I think there are really good reasons to choose charter schools. I think there are very good reasons to choose private schools (or to home school or choose other options). But the conversations that I have in my neighborhood lead me to believe that they are making those choices because they are afraid of the school that my daughter goes to.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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