Athens City School Board: We Need To Develop Culture of Education Around Racism

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Update 4:10 p.m.

Superintendent Tom Gibbs sent a letter to families of Athens City School District students in relation to the recent incident:

Athens City School District Families;

At last evening’s Board Meeting, several community members made public comment in relation to an incident that occurred earlier this week at Athens High School.  An in-depth investigation of this incident revealed that some students at the High School routinely use racially charged language, tell racially inappropriate jokes and otherwise racially harass one another.  In the weeks prior to this specific incident, harassment of this nature occurred repeatedly, other students were aware it was occurring, and no one made a report to school officials. What may be even more troubling is that the students were teammates on Athens High School athletic teams and many perceived them to be friends.

This event deeply disturbs and saddens me.  It certainly shines a light on a serious issue, not just in our schools, but in our society more broadly. It is time to admit that we frequently tolerate language that is language that degrades others, whether it is with racial, sexual or gender bias.  We encourage one another to not take the use of such language so seriously.  This implies that the biased language is acceptable. We must use this incident as a CALL FOR CHANGE!  Our children require it of us. We do them a disservice by allowing such divisive action to continue.

In the coming days, weeks, and beyond, it is our collective responsibility to create a school district and community that does a better job of integrating our students, of explicitly teaching our children to be accepting, to be kind, and to always support one another.  We all gain when all of our children feel welcome at school and in our community.

We cannot do this alone, however, and I am writing today to ask for your help. I encourage each member of our community to reflect and to ask themselves, “What can I do in my day to day interactions to change this culture?”  While this incident is representative of concerns specific to Athens High School, and the Board and Administration will certainly be looking for means by which to address the concerns within our organization directly, there is a broader issue that is pervasive in our community. It was clearly represented in the testimony our black community members provided to the Board of Education last evening.  It is time to admit this type of treatment is hurtful and we must work to change this culture.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to those members of our community who had the courage to speak at the Board of Education meeting last evening.  It is only through difficult dialogue that we can fully understand and begin to comprehend the depth of any problem, and the actions that will be necessary to resolve them.  While it is an uncomfortable topic for many, it is a necessary one.


Tom Gibbs


Athens City School District


The Athens City School Board says it wants to develop a culture of education around racism after a recent incident at Athens High School.

Concerned parents and citizens attended the board’s meeting Thursday night to voice displeasure with how a black student was suspended after reportedly fighting with another student who had used racial slurs and threw things at him.

Superintendent Tom Gibbs says he can’t comment on the recent incident, as it is under investigation. But he wants to take the suggestions to stop these incidents before they happen by teaching students about racism and implicit bias beginning at a young age.

“We need to remind each other at times that we’re being insensitive, unkind or racist. People will make mistakes,” Gibbs said. “We need to be reminded when we make mistakes early on before those mistakes compound and turn into an incident like this.”

Several black alumni and parents told the board the recent incident was not an outlier and shared stories of facing racism in the Athens schools and community.

Both student who were suspended are back in school as the investigation into the incident continues.