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Segregation forever? Atlanta separates blacks from whites in 'academic recovery' summer program

Department of Education waited more than a year to open civil rights investigation after parents shared recordings of officials admitting to segregating black students.

Published: April 9, 2023 11:28pm

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) took more than a year to open an investigation into allegedly intentional racial segregation in Atlanta Public Schools and purported retaliation against parents who complained.

The feds may soon face a similar complaint: keeping predominantly black and white elementary schools apart in a summer program intended to mitigate learning loss due to COVID-19 policies.

The nonprofit Committee for APS Progress asked district officials why majority-black Hope-Hill Elementary School in Atlanta would not be housed on the same site as "the rest of the cluster schools" in Midtown — majority-white Mary Lin, Morningside and Springdale — for this summer's Academic Recovery Academy, a departure from last summer.

The program website confirms that HHES, which has far smaller enrollment than each of the other three, will continue meeting at its own site while the others will meet at Mary Lin. Only three APS elementary schools among 40 are being kept alone for the summer program.

The arrangement resembles a larger version of the race-based "affinity groups" that are popular in higher education but have prompted litigation when applied to K-12 students and municipal employees. OCR has received several complaints about affinity groups for faculty, according to anti-woke medical advocacy group Do No Harm.

The four cluster schools have made a "concerted effort to foster relationship" with each other through "No Place for Hate" and "Girls Who Code" initiatives and a mural project where each school contributes a piece, the Committee for APS Progress told Superintendent Lisa Herring and other officials in a letter distributed on Twitter. The group says that isolating HHES is "detrimental to the growth and cohesion that we are actively building."

At best, this is an "egregious oversight" by APS officials, but "a more sinister" reading is that HHES was intentionally excluded "without regard to the impact of how it looks and feels to our scholars," according to the committee, which tagged OCR, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens in a tweet sharing the letter.

The group, which states that it seeks accountability for the district on behalf of families, teachers, staff and taxpayers, called it "a bit alarming" that APS is doing this during an "active civil rights violation investigation" prompted by the Poseys' July 2021 OCR complaint into the "eerily similar" Mary Lin classrooms reserved for second- and third-grade black students.

Two officials confirmed to parents Kila and Jason Posey in surreptitious recordings shared with Just the News and OCR that Mary Lin Principal Sharyn Briscoe chose to segregate black students, including their daughter, to create "community" among their small population. Georgia law allows “one party” consent to recording telephone conversations.

Kila Posey showed Just the News the November 2022 investigation notice she received from OCR 16 months after the Poseys filed the complaint alleging differential treatment of black students and retaliation against Jason Posey, a district employee who left when the 2021-2022 school year ended, and Kila Posey, whose after-school program subsequently lost a contract.

The response alludes to allegations the Poseys made after the July 2021 complaint, including that Jason was under APS investigation for recording phone conversations with an unnamed employee and had been reassigned to remote work in the meantime. Principal Briscoe also allegedly disclosed their daughter's "academic progress" to another administrator.

OCR's list of pending cases alludes to the APS investigation without any details, simply noting the district, opening date and basis — Title VI "assignment of students."

A spokesperson for the Department of Education told Just the News that OCR "can confirm there are seven open investigations into Atlanta Public Schools under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964," as noted on its investigations page. "We do not comment on ongoing investigations."

Kila Posey showed Just the News the August 2022 and March 2023 complaints she filed related to the fallout from their earlier July 2021complaint. The first says she was told OCR's original investigation of APS should be finished by September that year — two months before OCR opened the ongoing investigation. 

Kila filed a whistleblower grievance within APS against Briscoe in April 2022 for the principal's unexplained and "unilateral decision" to dump her after-school program, which had served APS for four years without "any measure of dissatisfaction," her sworn statement alleged. Her complaint that Briscoe had engaged in retaliation against her was deemed "unsubstantiated" by APS in August.

APS rebuffed her repeated requests to see a purportedly revised policy prohibiting principals from exerting unilateral control over after-school programs and the "criteria used to evaluate providers of after-school services," which Kila sought to preempt what she feared would be maneuvers against her by Briscoe.

The mother again recorded a conversation with Chief of Schools Anita Williams, who admitted Briscoe dumped the contract despite the fact that the policy on principal discretion "indeed was revised." Kila Posey is seeking compensation for the monetary losses from the allegedly retaliatory cutoff.

The March 20 complaint says she's still waiting for a response to the earlier August complaint and lays out the "inappropriate, unfair and discriminatory treatment" her daughters have received at Mary Lin in response to the Poseys' complaints.

A "paraprofessional" told her fourth-grader that she didn't like "the owner" of the after-school program and responded "ok" when the girl noted her mother Kila owned the program. The parents met with Associate Superintendent Paul Brown, who falsely promised the Office of Employee Relations (OER) would investigate, the sworn statement says.

Briscoe herself ended up contacting student witnesses and interviewed them herself without parental consent, according to Kila. The mother of one student said Briscoe "interrogated" her daughter "in a manner that appeared calculated to intimidate" the family and deter their involvement.

Though OER ultimately found enough evidence to substantiate her complaint against the paraprofessional, APS has "fostered an incubating environment" for retaliation and harassment by Briscoe, refusing to punish her and even publicly telling parents it "stands by" the principal, according to the statement.

Kila Posey also wrote that Mary Lin staff failed to send the Poseys' younger daughter to the school nurse or even give her time to recover in class after another student slammed her into a doorframe, giving the girl what turned out to be a concussion. 

Briscoe refused to meet with her, instead directing Kila Posey to a "math coach," and the school violated district protocol by failing to give Kila a written report about the incident and its response, the mother said. She added that she only got the report two weeks later, after Brown ordered Briscoe to provide it "immediately."

Her year-old complaint against Briscoe is still under investigation as of March 2, according to Kila Posey. "We are renewing our request" for the removal of Briscoe "and her entire administrative team," she wrote, as well as reimbursement for the family's legal fees as it pursues regulatory complaints.

APS did not respond to Just the News queries about the summer program and Kila Posey's complaints.

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