After an Atlanta mother claimed her daughter’s elementary school engaged in classroom segregation based on race, other Black parents are now coming to the defense of the school’s Black principal.
“I understand some people might feel differently, but all of the African-American parents I have spoken to are seeing this as a carriage of misjustice,” said Charles Berry a Mary Lin Elementary parent supporting Principal Sharyn Briscoe.
Berry is just one of many Black parents with children at the elementary school to put their support behind the principal who has come under fire for alleged classroom segregation of second graders based on their race.
The allegations stem from the 2020-2021 school year when students were learning virtually. Kila Posey, who is Black, sought to place her daughter with a teacher she felt was the best fit, and she says because her daughter is Black the principal would not allow the child to be placed with the teacher Posey sought.
“In this particular case, silence was part of complicity, and we could not allow this to be representative of the majority of the African-American parents at Mary Lin,” Berry said.
The group of parents sent a signed letter to the Atlanta Public Schools superintendent Dr. Lisa Herring calling the initial reporting done by local station WSBTV, “one-side, misleading, and inflammatory.”
A copy of the letter obtained by Atlanta Black Star read in part, “Many of us have known the isolation of looking around in our classrooms and seeing no one who looks like us. It diminishes confidence and self-esteem. As such, we have been comforted to find that our children are rarely the only children of color in a classroom.”
Of the 634 students enrolled at Mary Lin Elementary during the 2020-2021 school year, only 11 percent were Black. Berry says the numbers alone makes it “almost statistically impossible to have all the kids in just one or two of the classrooms,” he said.
Posey says when she asked the principal why Black students were separated, Briscoe told her “she didn’t want one or two kids in a class, and she was going to place them all together,” to which Posey replied, “That’s against the law, you can’t do that.”
This summer Posey filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights alleging Briscoe violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when she placed Black students in certain classes.
Posey’s complaint says, “We learned that classes had been formulated, in part, based upon race of students.” It goes on to say Briscoe as principal designated two classes as “the Black classes,” and “about thirteen Black second-grade students at Mary Lin were assigned only to these two second-grade classes.”
“I was disappointed because the person who delivered that information to me looked just like me,” Posey said.
Posey hired education lawyer Sharese Shields to take her case. Shields says Briscoe’s intent does not matter in the eyes of the law.
“It doesn’t matter what her intentions were, and what she was attempting to accomplish. She was essentially treating the Black students differently than any other race or ethnic group of students,” said Shields.
Atlanta Public Schools also conducted its own investigation. While APS officials did not reveal what actions the administration took to address the matter, they did provide Atlanta Black Star a statement.
“[As] an organization, we are committed to identifying and removing barriers to success for all our students, including our students of color,” APS wrote. “Using race as a method for assigning students to classrooms is unacceptable. APS does not support or condone this behavior.”
An APS spokesman also told ABS the allegations only applied only to a second grade class and no classes are still being segregated. Shields believes because Briscoe is a Black woman the situation is being perceived differently.
“Unfortunately, if she were a principal that was not Black, I think it would have a different feel to it. Simply because she’s an African-American woman, perhaps people are giving her the benefit of the doubt,” Shields said.
Despite the ongoing federal investigation, Briscoe and her administration remain in leadership at Mary Lin Elementary. Posey admits she does not have faith in Briscoe’s leadership going forward but refuses to remove her children, a first and third grader from the school.
“I’m not moving them because we didn’t do anything wrong. As far as confidence, I don’t have confidence in the leadership, but the teachers in the building work really hard,” Posey said.
Berry feels it is unfortunate the children have been placed at the center of what he is claiming is a personal issue Posey has with Briscoe that has become a controversy in the national spotlight.
“We’re dealing with a Black principal, I think Mrs. Posey is Black as well, and I believe this is more of a singular issue that has more of an ax to grind than concern over the student body,” Berry said.