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Letter to the Editor: Athens Parents 4 Racial Equity speak out

We are writing on behalf of the concerned and distressed parents of children in the Athens City School District and their teachers who want to provide the best education and classroom environment for their students. In short, there are problems in our schools. 

At the most recent Athens City School Board meeting on Sept. 21, principals presented on Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports. The goal of PBIS is to promote school safety and good behavior, emphasizing, “Be Safe, Responsible, Respectful and Kind.” The literature states that PBIS focuses on prevention, not punishment. In our opinion, it may be working in some schools, but definitely not well in others. 

Schools are seeing frequent incidents of racism, serious aggression, assault, destruction of property and threats of violence on other students and on teachers. “Minor misbehaviors,” such as disrespect, refusals, spitting, name calling and running out of the rooms are happening on a daily basis. This constant duress eats away at the teachers’ capacity to maintain a healthy learning situation. This requires urgent attention. Entire classrooms are regularly subjected to stress and even trauma caused by these ongoing events. 

The PBIS program’s effectiveness depends heavily on having enough dedicated, trained staff to implement behavioral interventions: immediate, one-on-one conversations to sort out underlying issues and teach students appropriate behaviors; small targeted groups for re-teaching; referrals for external evaluation or counseling; and implementing in-school suspensions when needed. There are not just not enough staff for the volume of incidents. We also wonder if students on IEPs are receiving the level of educational support and individualized assistance they need.

Theoretically, PBIS should work. As it’s currently implemented, it has serious problems, particularly in the early grades where the behaviors “Safe, Respectful, Responsible and Kind” are learned and reinforced. We recognize that COVID-19 cost each grade crucial time for practice and guidance in social interactions. However, students are presently trying to learn in unsafe physical and emotional environments. Immediate action is needed.

As parents, we recommend that the administration: 

        a) Actively set limits and consistently follow through on standards listed in the student handbook.

       b) Hire enough paraprofessionals to meet with students to focus on positive behaviors.

       c) Find space to provide the needed services.

      d) Allow parents back into the schools to help teachers and students. Parent participation was suspended due to COVID-19 and it has continued on. Parents want to help.

As a multiracial group of parents who support acceptance, diversity, inclusion and equity and advocate for individuals who are being harmed, we sincerely hope this is addressed quickly so all of our students can flourish. You can contact our group through Facebook @AthensParents4RacialEquity.

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