The NAACP Task Force on Education Matters addressed a letter to the Clarke County School District Board of Education regarding their concerns of racism against Black students and staff in the school district.
In the letter, Alvin Sheats, the president of NAACP’s Clarke County branch, said that the BOE has ignored the community’s concerns and has demonstrated an inability and ineffectiveness to make adjustments in its decisions regarding race.
Throughout the letter, the task force asks for multiple changes to the current system in order to better recognize the Black community. This includes a series of meetings with the board and Black community that would be moderated by the NAACP Task Force on Education.
The task force also demands that two members of the CCSD board involved in past racial controversies be investigated or asked to resign.
One of the members is Greg Davis, who represents District 1. Davis read a Langston Hughes poem titled “Ku Klux” at a Black history month event at the Greater Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in February, according to the letter.
The poem, “Ku Klux,” includes an offensive racial slur, which Davis did not censor while reading it. According to the Athens Banner-Herald, on May 14 the BOE narrowly rejected holding an ethics hearing on Davis.
The NAACP task force said that Davis should resign immediately and that the entire board should go through race sensitivity training for elected officials.
Davis did not respond to a request for comment.
The email also said John Knox, the board’s District 8 member, interfered in the evaluation and supervision of former superintendent Demond Means, who is Black. The letter says this is a CCSD policy violation as evaluations are the responsibility of the superintendent.
Additionally, the board did not hold a hearing or conduct an investigation associated with a complaint filed by Means, and the board did not address Knox’s conduct, the letter says.
Means was placed on administrative leave in December 2019. Xernona Thomas has been serving as interim superintendent since then.
The task force is seeking an investigation of the alleged behavior of Knox by an independent evaluator and asks that the investigation be completed by June 30. They are also insisting on the immediate reinstatement of Means, who is currently on administrative leave.
“Now, more than ever, we need an experienced superintendent setting a vision for the district and more importantly, we demand a board that will focus on their governance roles in assisting the district … we have no more time to wait on you, the board, to decide if you are going to change,” the task force said in the letter.
LaKeisha Gantt, the president of the board, believes that change can be brought through hard work and communication with the NAACP.
“Our effort and goal is to create safe and psychologically healthy spaces for children … I think all of us have that goal in mind. The work is figuring out how we are going to get there,” said Gantt.
Gantt also said the school board has been in contact with the NAACP and Sheats and are in the process of scheduling a time to meet.
“I think it is an appropriate request and our policy outlines that process. We are elected officials in a governing body so we have to be prepared to address concerns and meet with the NAACP and listen,” said Gantt.
Cognia, a national school accrediting agency, conducted an evaluation of the school district in January. The findings stated that if the board does not demonstrate a change in their behavior, the school district is in jeopardy of losing accreditation as soon as December.
The email asks for an apology from the board for placing the school system in a position where it could lose accreditation.
In order to build better relations with the Black community, the NAACP is asking that the BOE meet with the local NAACP two times a year.
The task force asks that a response is made by the CCSD for all the requests to be addressed in detail by May 15.
“It is time for the community of color, which represents 74% of the student population of the district, to be heard, respected and formally addressed in a public forum,” the task force said.
Gantt said she is looking to work with the NAACP to create positive change in the school district.
“I think that all institutions need to take a hard look at how we serve … whether it be children or humanity, we are working to diminish or decrease the disparities that we see … we need to challenge ourselves to be sure that we are not upholding the systems that we are fighting against,” said Gantt.