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Board of Education grills Acting Superintendent on diversity

As tempers remain high in the community following an incident where an administrator at a local elementary school compared a pro-LGBTQ piece of student artwork to Nazi symbolism, members of the Clarke County Board of Education sat down for a last minute meeting on Wednesday.

The words "Oglethorpe Ave Elementary School" weren't mentioned once in the hour long meeting, but the simmering controversy at the school seemed to be at the heart of the special session. The only substantive item on the agenda was the district policy on what they call "culture and climate" - essentially, the district's commitment to diversity equity, and inclusion.

Board members had tough questions for the district's acting Superintendent Brandon Gaskins. Board member Nicole Hull asked Gaskins whether a standalone equity policy, ideally more actionable and measurable than what the district currently has, would be useful and had a draft policy ready for his review.

Brannon Gaskins
Clarke County School District
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Clarke County Board of Education members peppered Acting Superintendent Brannon Gaskins with questions about the district's policies on equity, communications, and organization.

"It's kind of this idea of taking the beliefs and actually putting them into practice, and practices that can be measured and people can be held accountable," Hull explained.

Gaskins expressed support for that idea and said he would take it to other district administrators for their input.

Board member Mumbi Anderson asked Gaskins about the district's protocols when a complaint of discrimination is raised. According to Gaskins, complaints go to the district EEOC officer.

"When [the EEOC officer] is finished with her investigation, she'll tell us if any federal, state, local laws or policies have been violated," Gaskins responded. "In those cases where they have been violated, she will tell us the district has to report this to the [Professional Standards Commission]. We may have to report things to the authorities, depending on what they are, and then she also will tell us what the corrective action should be."

Kirrena Gallagher, elected to the board last year, asked about families who may not know about or understand the process of filing a complaint. Gaskins explained that sometimes, teachers or other staff report concerns they hear from students and families. When those concerns are reported, Gaskins said, administrators try to get contact information for the complainant, because anonymous complaints are difficult to investigate.

"So the teacher may say this is something that [a] student is experiencing, and so we always ask that they share that name with us - they share the students name, they share their parents name - so we can call them and validate what their claims are," Gaskins said.

Board members also pressed Gaskins on how the district communicates with stakeholders. That's an area where Gaskins admitted the district needs improvement.

Board member Tawana Maddox expressed her frustration with district communications in the wake of both the Oglethorpe Ave situation and lingering unanswered questions over the reassignment of Clarke Middle School Principal Chris Pendley.

"I'm thinking as the community person because that's what I am. And I'm frustrated. And I just want us to have a better sense of this concern for the community when things happen and there is hurt." Mattox said. "I know that legally, we have to follow legal processes, but also, where are our moral processes?"

Mumbi Anderson also brought up concerns about the district organizational chart.

"So if there is a way that the organizational chart can become a lot more linear, so that teachers feel that they have a voice and these issues can be addressed sooner rather than erupting into chaos, then we may be able to - not as a board, but the district - then may be able to address issues before they become these big problems," Anderson said.

That's an issue scheduled to be in front of board members at their Thursday work session.

Martin Matheny was promoted to Program Director and Content Strategist on July 1, 2022. He has served as the Executive Producer of our local news program 'Athens News Matters', and he covers local government for WUGA News. He started at WUGA in 2012 as a part-time classical music host and still hosts WUGA's longest-running local program 'Night Music' which is heard on Tuesdays and Wednesdays on WUGA at 10pm. 'Night Music' can also be heard statewide on the GPB Classical stream Mondays and Tuesdays at 8pm. As part of 'Athens News Matters' Martin works with student interns to help cultivate the next generation of Public Media rock stars! In his spare time Martin is an amateur book binder and freelance musician who frequently performs with Big Band Athens playing bass trombone. He lives in Normaltown with his wife, Shaye and dog, Murphy.
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