Cobb school board members support district’s handling of alleged racism

Some Cobb County School Board members are lukewarm on two suggestions made by residents about how the district can address what advocates identify as racism inside classrooms.

Members of the Stronger Together organization, which is made up of about 20 parents, students and educators, asked board members at the Thursday meeting to consider hiring a chief equity officer, and introduce cultural training to educators.

Board member Randy Scamihorn said he doesn’t think hiring a chief equity officer is necessary because the district is already responsive to concerns raised by parents. Scamihorn also said members of Stronger Together didn’t provide any details about instances of alleged racial bias in Cobb classrooms.

“I would like to see the evidence as to what they are referring to,” he said.

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David Morgan, another board member, said he doesn’t think the district needs a chief equity officer to implement the suggestions put forth by Stronger Together.

“We certainly don’t want anyone to feel unsafe or judged by their ethnicity,” he said.

Stronger Together formed last year as a grassroots organization to call attention to what it says are disparities in disciplinary rates between white students and their peers of color. The group also says there is lopsided white participation in gifted and talented programs, and that there is racial insensitivity and hostility towards minorities in some classrooms.

Advocates say a chief equity officer would help identify and address inequalities that affect a student’s academic progress, and cultural training would encourage teachers to take into account their students’ background.

Both of those actions will help Cobb educators better understand the trauma and discrimination students may face because of their race, gender, sexual orientation and economic status, said Garrett Middle School counselor and Stronger Together member John Nwosu.

“I’m here today to just strongly and vehemently recommend that we do those two things,” he said.

Gwinnett County Public Schools, the largest system in Georgia, recently appointed one of its principals as chief equity officer there, said board member Charisse Davis.

“I really hope as a district that we don’t get left behind in that conversation,” she said.

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School board chairman David Chastain said he can’t respond to the allegations of racism because he has not been shown any complaints. He also said board members would never entertain hiring a chief equity officer unless the recommendation came from Superintendent Chris Ragsdale.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reached out to Ragsdale for comment on Stronger Together’s recommendations. A school district spokeswoman said Cobb students are among the highest performing in the metropolitan area.

“The district will continue to hire the very best teachers and leaders to effectively support student learning as one team, with one goal: success for every student,” the system said.

Board member Brad Wheeler said he hopes teachers and administrators are addressing allegations of racism, and documenting those incidents with the central office.

“If you’ve got racism in a school or any organization, there’s no place for that,” he said.

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