Athens Middle School

Athens Middle School. Photo by Ben Peters.

The district’s students are slated to begin the semester virtually on Aug. 31.

The Athens City School District Board of Education met via Zoom on Thursday evening to discuss plans for the upcoming fall semester, as well as hear public comment from a community group.

Athens Parents for Racial Equality

Brandi Baker, a parent of a middle school student in the district, is the co-founder of the group called Athens Parents for Racial Equality. The group was formed in 2018 with the goal of forming a partnership with the school district to address race issues. The group’s efforts have included: hosting meetings with the superintendent; supporting parents with concerns regarding their children’s treatment by adults within the system; reviewing the complaint system process within the district; and hosting social events to build community for families with children of color, which most recently included a celebration of Juneteenth.

Baker was joined by Shorelle Arocho, Kris Lowe, “Beth” Amoriya and Evelyn Ramirez-Nagy, who took turns reading a letter to the Board of Education during the public participation portion of the meeting.

“Our nation is currently grappling with its history of systemic racism. In response to the death of George Floyd, we are seeing nationwide collective action against racial violence through protests, direct action, and national conversations around race and racism,” the group’s letter to the school board states.

The group noted that in July, the City of Athens declared racism as a public health emergency.

“Athens City School District is not, and should not be, exempt from these conversations about how to reshape our community to combat racism,” the group stated in its letter.

The group noted the district has taken steps to address their concerns raised two years ago in an Aug. 19, 2018 letter to the ACSD Board of Education. For example, since 2018, the district has updated the board policies and student handbooks to more explicitly include racism as a form of bullying and harassment; created voluntary book clubs for teachers and administrators this summer that focused on national racial history; funded a day with social studies teachers led by Teaching Tolerance, and sponsored the “Groundwater” training in collaboration with the Athens Foundation in 2019, as well as 2020. In addition, the district has implemented two-hour implicit bias training that will be a part of the inservice program that’s underway for all employees in the district.

A few proposals discussed two years ago, however, have not been addressed or have been “experiencing significant delays.” First, the group said, was diversity, equity and inclusion training and curriculum changes; second, bullying and unwelcoming and racially hostile environments for students of color in the ACSD.

“In our 2018 letter, we raised issues about bullying as a form of racism, bias, and prejudice in both the classroom and at school-sponsored functions,” the group wrote.“This is one of the most frequent issues raised by parents in our group, as well as not knowing how or to whom these issues should be reported. Additionally, there is a strong feeling by parents that their concerns are not taken seriously by some school administrators.”

A “palm card” — “a tool giving resources to report various incidents, including incidents of racism or race-based harassment,” according to the letter — will reportedly be circulated. The Athens Parents for Racial Equality group helped edit this document, and the group urged the superintendent to “send this palm card out as soon as possible and to have it easily accessible on the district website.”

Ultimately, the group called on the Board “to support the superintendent in hiring, or contracting with, designated Diversity, Equity and Inclusion staff by 2021 in order to help advance these efforts as soon as possible,” listing several school districts in the state who have similar staff employed: Bexley City Schools, Kings Local and Shaker Heights, to name a few.

Fall semester preparation, athletics

ACSD superintendent Tom Gibbs updated the Board about the district’s progress in terms of fall preparation. The Athens NEWS previously reported that the school year will begin remotely, with students having the option to complete the year in its entirety online. Gibbs said 750 students in the district will be learning remotely all year.

Personal protective equipment has been ordered for all employees of the district, and buildings are receiving their cleaning and disinfecting supplies. Many staff members are already in their buildings working, Gibbs said.

Staff members who have pre-existing conditions that put them at higher risk during the pandemic or have significant child care concerns had the option to submit a letter and medical documentation, if applicable, to request accommodations. Gibbs said he received roughly 80 requests from the more than 400 employees in the district.

“We were able to honor all, except for a couple of those, completely,” he told the Board.

Gibbs said the district is “well poised” to begin its online program. The district ordered an additional 400 Chromebooks to serve as back-ups. The district is also looking to bring WiFi hotspots to households that lack reliable Internet. The district is submitting an application for the internet provision grant to fund these efforts, and school leaders are also working with local cable providers to bring services to households in the district.

In terms of athletics, Gibbs said many decisions need to be finalized. The district has been receiving guidance from the Athens City-County Health Department in regards to scrimmages, spectatorship and more. Student athletes have been practicing, some since June, and other competitions for volleyball, tennis and golf are also underway.

Spectators may be permitted at events, Gibbs said, but the district is also looking into a streaming service for sports events.

“We’re trying to create as much access as we can,” he told the Board.

In addition, Gibbs said the limited spectators who would be permitted to attend athletic events would also be required to wear masks. Buses are being utilized in the district to transport students, but students are not required to use school transportation. Parents and guardians are permitted to drive their student athletes to events, too.

Other notable items on the meeting agenda:

  • Board president Sean Parsons proposed that the Board continue to record and stream school board meetings, even after meetings become in-person again.
  • Heard public comment from Mara Giglio, who advocated for teacher choice during the pandemic. “Please treat teachers like the hardworking professionals that they are,” she told the Board.
  • Accepted and approved the donation of funds from the Athletic Boosters and Bulldog Blitz towards the cost of the new sign for the Joe Burrow Football Stadium in the amount of $3,433.33 from each organization.
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