Beyond The Court: Athens City Schools sets future plans for equity and diversity

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — The Athens City School District announced its future strategies to ensure equity and diversity within its buildings.

The newly announced diversity plan came after racial tensions at Athens High School last year sparked an investigation. A third party conducted an equity audit of the school district.

“We had a couple of race-related incidents that we had some concern about, and wanted to try to make some headway in regards to improving how we respond and how we can be proactive as opposed to reactive in situations of that nature,” said Athens City Schools Superintendent Tom Gibbs.

With a student body that is currently 86% white, the school district has had a history racial micro-aggressions that have slipped through the cracks.

Local DJ Brandon Thompson is an Athens alum who played on the Bulldogs’ basketball team. He said he has experienced the uneasiness of being black in a predominantly white school.

“I didn’t really realize that the people that I was growing up with were not aware of the things that were happening to me,” said Thompson. “There were racist things that were happening in sports, school, and outside of school, and I didn’t really bring it up unless I had to.”

The administration chose to utilize three pillars of the equity audit conducted by Dr. Kristilynn Turney that will be phased in by summer 2023.

The first pillar is the curriculum. The school district will enlist a third-party agency to perform a review to incorporate more culturally responsive material.

The school will review the number of students of color and students in poverty that are in advanced courses and then establish a process aimed at increasing those numbers.

The second pillar is staff engagement. Teachers and administrators will undergo diversity, equity and inclusion training throughout the school year. They will also be expected to reflect on their cultural responsiveness during regular observations and self-evaluations.

Human resources will revise interview questions for potential candidates to address questions about diversity, equity, and inclusion. They will look to identify and implement ways to recruit and retain teachers of color.

The third pillar is student engagement. Athens students will be encouraged to participate in multicultural fairs and events along with diversity-focused school organizations.

One diversity-focused organization is the anti-racism book club that focuses on race-related literature and news. Brandon Thompson runs that club and helps pay for the books and other expenses by holding fundraising events.

Thompson wants to raise awareness to create a space for open and honest conversations about race.

“All people of color have to fit whatever mold we are in. Society is dominated by white people,” he said. “It’s not a negative thing but we have to enter that. White people don’t understand what that’s like because they don’t have to.”

The school district is planning to build new school buildings including Athens High School. New features such as gender-neutral bathrooms and revamped locker rooms are in the blueprint for the new facilities. Gibbs maintains that diversity and equity will be included in the planning of how the new schools will be built.

“It’s not about making one person feel more comfortable than the rights or feelings of another student, but it’s how you plan for facilities knowing that this building is going to be there for 50 to 100 years and knowing the trajectory of change that we’re on,” he said.

Gibbs and the administration have high hopes of an inclusive and brighter future at Athens City Schools.

“Our goal is to provide an environment for our students where every student feels safe and secure at school, so we can provide a springboard for success,” GIbbs said.