GCPS Board Meeting Speakers Spotlight Gaps in Equity and Justice

Amina+Busuri+stands+with+members+of+the+Gwinnett+Parent+Coalition+as+they+call+for+the+removal+of+resource+officers+from++schools.++Image+taken+from+the+GCPS+recording+of+the+meeting.

Amina Busuri stands with members of the Gwinnett Parent Coalition as they call for the removal of resource officers from schools. Image taken from the GCPS recording of the meeting.

Last night’s Gwinnett County Public Schools board meeting featured public responses from 28 community members, and focused centrally on a theme of equity and justice.  Students, teachers, and parents all showed up to discuss the gaps in equity they see in county policy, and through their speeches three common issues developed:

  1. The inclusion of socially aware classroom decor
  2. The gaps in access to technology for digital learners
  3. The continuing spread of COVID-19, and the lack of options for teachers

Of the 28 speakers, a group of 10 students who attended the board meeting are members of “Gwinnett Students for Equity”. They attend the schools GSMST (Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology), Collins Hill High School, and Archer High School. 

Each student expressed the same speech as they spoke about equity in relation to an incident over a Black Lives Matter poster in the classroom of Ms. Paige McGaughey, a teacher at Alton C. Crews Middle School in Lawrenceville. McGaughey was instructed to take the poster down as one parent had made a complaint of its presence in the classroom. 

Samad Hakani of GSMST, who spoke at last month’s meeting as well, was the first to speak on the incident, calling it “a pattern of hypocrisy by the board in regards to equity.”  He mentioned a statement issued by Superintendent Wilbanks who promised to “speak out and address racism.”  Hakani asserts the board is not standing by this statement.

He explains:

“By all means, [the poster is] a message of unity, acceptance, understanding, tolerance, and hope. The district did not appear to feel the same way, bending after a single parent complained about the poster. In the middle of a pandemic and in the middle of massive social unrest in the wake of the police brutalizing assault of Jacob Lake, the district chose to threaten and intimidate the teacher with consequences if more parents were to complain.”

With the classwork of students being moved fully digitally, Gwinnett County Public Schools is facing a scarcity of Chromebooks for both the students in the classroom and those working digitally at home. For the students who need devices to work at home, many were waitlisted for a device and forced to come to school while others were prioritized and given immediate access. This situation has led parents and students to become frustrated from the board’s decision and complain about the inequality.

Anthony Downer, a World History teacher at Peachtree Ridge High school, who is also a founding member of “Gwinnett Educators for Equity and Justice” attended the board meeting. During the meeting, Downer blames the county for dismissing COVID-19 and not adequately being prepared.

Downer stated, “many kids across the district that need them the most do not have devices nor hotspots… The leadership has proved for months now in front of the nation that it is ill-equipped for this moment and out of touch with reality.”

Another speaker was  Dibett Lopez who came to speak to the board as an educator for the district and the parent of a GCPS student. 

After introducing herself, she states, “In this county, we have an immense amount of students that have been waitlisted for computers. Students and parents have told their teacher that prior to the fully digital start, they had not received technology and therefore were forced to choose in-person learning…” 

Many speakers assert that, while covid cases have declined, this is no reason to have opened schools. Milan Nayak, GSMST high school senior, reminds the board that each coronavirus case and death goes “beyond an individual person” as these are numbers that represent lives of “mothers, fathers, students, caregivers, small business owners, and more.” Nayak goes on to criticize the hypocrisy of the board’s actions that conflict with an already set policy stating schools shall close for hazardous weather or other emergencies threatening GCPS’s safety. This student, along with many others, want to know from the board: “How exactly does a global pandemic exempt this policy?”

While students and parents have been able to decide if students will learn at home or at school, teachers are forced to teach from school. Teachers may be scared to speak to protect their jobs, but current GCPS teacher and democratic nominee for District B School Board, Tanisha Banks voices her concerns. As “priorities push policy” the board’s actions must reflect that “students and teachers need to be the priority.” She wants teachers to have the ability to make choices because that ability “is called democracy.” 

Tandessa Jackson, GCPS parent, wants teachers to have the same right as she did as a parent who could decide whether or not to send her children to school. She asks board members to, “please have mercy on these teachers.” Board members not giving teachers an option is not viable because, “you can’t recover from the grave,” she explains. Risking one’s life is simply not part of a teacher’s job description.

The meeting concluded as board members shared their opinions on the best way they believe to handle these uncertain times. Board Member Everton Blair, who represents Parkview, advocates for digital learning. He thanks those who spoke on the behalf of teachers, because he wants to be able to provide choice for them. The concrete actions of the board include “developing an equity policy” which Blair has encouraged to “include teacher and student voice.” Blair also mentioned that he does not want the option for schooling to become a situation where “one set of students is receiving a higher quality educational experience.” 

Board Member Mary Kay Murphy, who is in a reelection campaign against Ms. Banks, asserts there has been a “great amount of professional development in hybrid, online and in person, learning” now, compared to in the spring of the last school year. The option of online learning allows in person learning to be safer, as there are fewer students in classrooms. She highlights the structure and accountability hybrid learning provides, and praises the county’s ability to provide students with access to technology. 

Board member Carole Boyce supports the move for equity and calls to question the gap in technology by asking how many students “do not have access to devices,” and “what are we doing about those particular children?” 

Board Member Lousie Radloff ended the meeting by stating on the behalf of the board:“we agree or we may not agree” but still claims, “we are here to do what is best for the community at large.”