Bands to march while parents stew over allegations

Proud parents will be watching, but they'll also be stewing over the vague nature of the allegations and the secrecy surrounding them, band parent Keith Sailor said. The alleged incidents occurred at two schools, yet Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson suspended marching band activities at all 21 high schools in the school system. The suspension of all but select activities is in place until the investigation ends.

"It looks bad for all the kids to be the subjects of an investigation," said Sailor, president of the band booster group at Southwest DeKalb High School. Seniors this year could win fewer scholarships because of negative publicity from the investigation, he said.

Officials still have not disclosed the nature of the alleged "inappropriate" incidents. But new school board Chairman Eugene Walker gave a hint at a Jan. 9 school board meeting. There, Sailor publicly criticized the administration's secrecy and the suspension. Walker responded, saying he'd spoken with Atkinson about her probe "and we totally agree that the system will have zero tolerance for any kind of hazing or bullying."

The investigation began after two alleged hazing incidents involving marching band students at Florida A&M University who had attended DeKalb schools.

Robert Champion, who died Nov. 19, was a Southwest DeKalb graduate. So is FAMU clarinetist Bria Hunter, who suffered a broken leg. Two of the three bandmates who were charged with punching her also attended Southwest DeKalb. (The third defendant graduated from Druid Hills High, also a DeKalb school.)

DeKalb officials recently revealed the name of one target of their investigation. The DeKalb grand jury summoned Atkinson and a top assistant, Ramona Tyson. In their report of the interview, the jurors said they were told that Don Roberts, the system's music director, was under investigation.

Roberts, reached by telephone Thursday, said officials had not told him anything. "I can't really comment," he said, "because I don't have a lot of details."

The bands from Cedar Grove, Clarkston, Martin Luther King Jr., McNair and Stone Mountain high schools got special dispensation to march in Monday's parade. It starts at 12:30 p.m. in downtown Stone Mountain.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.