Concerns are surfacing over the opportunities made available to students of color — particularly black and Latino students — in Marietta City Schools.
The NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and a handful of retired Marietta City Schools educators joined up for a press conference announcing they had filed a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights against the independent, charter school district in Cobb County.
“Since the inception of Marietta City Schools in 1892, the school district has conducted business through a white lens,” said a statement from the groups, according to the AJC. “The past 125 years of the district’s policies and practices have inflicted a blight on minority achievement that stretches to this day.”
Retired Marietta High School teacher Ken Sprague spoke about segregated classrooms and the significant achievement gap between white students and students of color. In a district that is 80 percent non-white, Sprague said the district only had four black high school graduates that met the composite college readiness benchmark on the 2016 ACT.
The civil rights groups also expressed concerns that the majority of leadership in the school district is white, again, even though the school’s student population is mostly black and Latino.
An uncredited editorial in the Marietta Daily Journal quickly surfaced, defending the school district. The author argued the complainants should release the specifics of their concerns, or else it’s not a fair “confrontation.”
“While the speakers were willing to level their criticisms of Marietta school leadership, they were unwilling to present the OCR filing,” the editorial stated, going on to add that, “Otherwise, the school system finds itself in the role of a blindfolded boxer.”
The school district, not surprisingly, said, “Every day, all of our employees work diligently to ensure all students have support and access to opportunities that promote academic growth,” adding that there is no discrimination in the school district.
This is an opportunity to step back and ask what can be done better. So often racism — systemic racism, in particularly — is subtle, yet highly pervasive, but none-the-less very damaging to people of color.
The fact that the school district does not have discriminatory policies is not the same as positively cultivating anti-racist schools. Rather than shutting down the possibility that racism could be present in their schools, the Marietta City Schools District needs to evaluate how existing disparities — in staffing, leadership, student achievement and access to school resources — might stem from outdated or problematic procedures and process (as well as the biases teachers may hold) that do not allow students of color to fully succeed in their schools.
It is already well documented that students of color face racism and racist beliefs and practices in schools across the nation. So it’s not far-fetched that Marietta City Schools would have a problem with racism, and students of color would have — in practice — unequal access to the opportunities, tools and support they need to succeed.
While the Office of Civil Rights investigates the complaint, this is an opportunity for the charter school district — should they so choose — to proactively step up, engage with their community and transparently evaluate what can be done differently.