Education

Group Asks Cobb School Board To Address Racism Concerns, Equity In Schools

Jillian Ford speaks at a Cobb County school board meeting. She started a group that's trying to open a dialogue about race across the district.
Jillian Ford speaks at a Cobb County school board meeting. She started a group that's trying to open a dialogue about race across the district.
Credit Cobb County School District

A small grassroots group of parents and teachers says there’s a problem with racism in the Cobb County School District. The school system says it takes the concerns seriously.

However, the group wants a stronger reaction.

‘It’s Beyond Frustrating’

Jillian Ford is a Cobb schools parent and a faculty member at Kennesaw State University.

She became concerned after some racist incidents became public in 2017. In March, a student at North Cobb High School posted a racist rant on social media, threatening to kill black students. In November 2017, a teacher at South Cobb High School reportedly threatened to hang black students if they didn’t stop talking.

Both incidents prompted protests.

The school district expressed concern in both cases, but Ford said officials weren’t willing to start a dialogue about race.

“When we are telling the Cobb County School District that our students are being called the n-word, that teachers are telling students that they will lynch them, that white terroristic threats can come out from students at the high school level … and their response is that, ‘We are one system for success that treats all of its students well,’ it’s beyond frustrating,” she said.

Ford formed a group called Stronger Together, which holds conversations about race-related problems in schools and advocates for more communication between school officials and families when it comes to race.

Some group members came to an August school board meeting to express concerns that racial tensions are still present in Cobb’s schools.

“There’s overlapping experiences between class and race,” said middle school counselor John Nwosu. “There are legacies that are complex that we need help unpacking.”

Nwosu said policies like Jim Crow and redlining caused a lot of damage that still hasn’t completely healed. He also urged the board to consider hiring a chief equity officer to act as a liaison between the district and schools. The Gwinnett County Public Schools hired its first equity officer recently.

Members of Stronger Together would also like the Cobb schools to offer implicit bias training for educators. As is true in many districts, students of color in Cobb are disciplined at higher rates than white students.

Demographics Have Changed. Have Attitudes?

White students make up 38 percent of the Cobb schools population. African-Americans account for 31 percent of students. Twenty-two percent of the district’s students are Latinx.

That diversity is reflected in the results of the last school board election. Two newly elected African-American board members hold seats formerly occupied by white members. The school board now has four white members and three African-Americans.

Charisse Davis, one of the new members, urged the board to consider hiring a chief equity officer. The board didn’t take any action at its August meeting. However, Davis said afterward, the issue merits discussion.

“I think we should definitely have a conversation about it, at the very least, because there’s plenty of work for that person to do,” she said. “We are a very diverse district. It’s one of our strengths, but with that comes some challenges, and we want to make sure we’re reaching all of our kids.”

Stronger Together says it will keep showing up at board meetings, and it will continue to invite district officials to meet with the group. So far, that hasn’t happened.

Jillian Ford says Stronger Together plans to team up with a group called La Gente de Cobb, an organization that advocates for the Latinx community.

When asked if district officials would meet with Stronger Together to discuss its concerns, a spokesperson for the Cobb County School District issued the following statement:

“The personal experiences of each of our families are important starting points and our school leaders are both interested and available to address those experiences directly.”

Correction: The spelling of Charisse Davis’ name has been corrected.