A parent group in the Athens City School District has been working to educate others and support Athens students.
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. Baker formerly worked in Ohio University’s Office of Multicultural Access and Student Retention.
The group was formed in 2018 with the goal of forming a partnership with the school district to address race issues. The group started off with a roundtable-like discussion among families in the district, many of whom had frustrations or questions about how to best support their children.
The group’s efforts since have included: hosting meetings with the district’s 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.
In addition, Baker said the group has coordinated other educational activities, such as taking group members to an event about Athens’ first Black attorney, Andrew Jackson Davison, and movie nights with post-viewing discussions.
“We’re hoping to create dialogue and opportunities for children,” Baker said. “And we want them to thrive and enjoy the Athens experience,” Baker said.
Baker, who was joined by group members Shorelle Arocho, Kris Lowe, “Beth” Amoriya and Evelyn Ramirez-Nagy, read a letter to the Athens City School District Board of Education during their Aug. 20 meeting.
“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.
Baker noted the district has taken steps to address the group’s concerns raised two years ago in an Aug. 19, 2018 letter to the ACSD Board of Education.
The 2018 letter detailed multiple concerns from parents in the school district: bullying in the form of racism, bias, and prejudice in both the classroom and at school sponsored functions; using offensive and culturally insensitive language, symbols, expressions, attitudes and behaviors toward underrepresented students, to name a few. The group also identified a lack of education, knowledge, awareness and understanding of historical and culturally significant events in American and global history in the district, among both students and staff alike.
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.
“Tom Gibbs has been great with following up with us” Baker said. “He’s done a great job and has been consistent.”
Moving forward the group hopes to continue its relationship with the district, and Athens Parents for Racial Equality also aims “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,” a goal the group outlined in its letter to the school board read during the Aug. 20 meeting.
The letter listed several school districts in the state who have similar staff employed: Bexley City Schools, Kings Local and Shaker Heights, to name a few.
Baker also noted the group has been working to educate students and families in the district about diversity, equity and inclusion. In addition, Baker said the group has been working to raise awareness and consciousness about micro-aggressions.
“They’re like little mosquito bites,” Baker said. “Little annoyances, comments, that can be direct or unintentional.”