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Parents, Students, Teachers Speak Against CCSD’s LGBTQ Art Removal

screencap via YouTube

Dozens of Athens community members turned out to a Clarke County Board of Education meeting last week to express their outrage over the removal of an Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary School fifth-grader’s pro-LGBTQ artwork and administrators comparing the rainbow flag to a Nazi flag

One parent, part of a lesbian couple with a son in pre-K, wondered if a picture of their family would be removed from a display of classmates’ family photos in her son’s classroom. Since school administrators said the “Gay is OK” artwork raised difficult questions, what about photos of heterosexual couples raising questions for her son? “Hiding is something our community has struggled to overcome for decades,” said the speaker, who identified herself only as Jennifer.

Another LGBTQ parent, Ginger Stickney, an educator at another school, said students already have to deal with being misgendered and teachers refusing to use their chosen names. She urged the board to follow Athens-Clarke County’s lead and enact a nondiscrimination policy. 

“Taking down the art makes me feel like they don’t want my kind of family at the school,” her child, also a fifth-grader, told the board.

Some speakers, like Amanda Macon, a longtime Oglethorpe parent, described the most recent controversy as indicative of broader problems at the school under principal Bipul Singh. “Morale has steadily declined over the past three years, and this most recent incident has stretched it to its breaking point,” Macon said.

“This administration seems more concerned with silencing teachers and shutting down dialog with the community,” she said, describing teachers chastised, listservs disabled and emails going unanswered. “If this administration stays, our teachers will go at a rate that will be devastating. It will take years to build Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary back.”

Ashley Callahan tied the situation to CCSD’s controversial transfer of Clarke Middle principal Christopher Pendley to the central office. “This situation at OAES just underscores the need for kind, compassionate leadership, the kind of leadership we had under Mr. Pendley,” Callahan said.

And that wasn’t the only complaint. Other speakers criticized the lack of girls’ locker rooms at Clarke Central, rampant bullying, lack of mentorship programs and a bloated central office staff that’s not held accountable while teachers are constantly policed.

Hilsman Middle School employee Laura McGreevey caught wind of plans to cut three-and-a-half teaching positions and came to speak against it. “It is hard to provide for our students while feeling constantly understaffed. We have lost teachers who simply could not take or could not stand for the very stressful, sometimes unsafe working conditions. Those of us who remain bear the weight, hopeful that our leaders are making plans for relief. Our admin are constantly present throughout the building, always thinking of new ways to stretch our dedicated staff without totally exhausting or driving any more away. Now we’re asked to do more with less?”

In response to board questions, Chief Academic Officer and acting superintendent Brannon Gaskins said administrators saved 44 teacher positions last year despite state funding cuts. “Our intention is to save as many teaching positions as we can,” Gaskins said.