The Alachua County School Board acknowledged at its meeting Tuesday night that it is investigating a student club at Gainesville High School that purportedly limited participation to Black male students.
Superintendent Shane Andrew disclosed that a parent of one of the students who attended the club submitted a complaint to the county school district’s human resources department.
Alachua County Public Schools spokesperson Jackie Johnson said the complaint was about an employee, but she said any information regarding the situation can’t legally be disclosed until ten days after a review is completed.
It’s unclear when or how the district will investigate the alleged policy violation.
The parent’s issue, first reported last week by the Gainesville Sun, was with the information presented to students during the club at Gainesville High, called Club GAIN. The Sun said dozens of students received invitations to join the club Aug. 22.
Students who attended skipped lunch and received permission to leave class five minutes early, as the club members were shown statistics about Black men being less successful, the parent told the newspaper.
The Sun said the club may have violated state and federal laws, in addition to district policies, by selecting participants based on their race or gender.
The chairwoman of the school board, Tina Certain, said the board can’t discontinue a club unless it violates a policy. She said the parent who filed the complaint didn’t want the club to be discontinued.
Gainesville High’s student population is about 38% white, 32% Black and 17% Hispanic.
The parent’s former partner and father of their son, Stephen Marsh, said only one of the 12 slides shown to students included statistics about Black males.
“The rest of the presentation just talked about how to get the students in the club into college visits and getting scholarships,” he said. “Nothing big. Guidance counselors all over the place do that.”
Under Florida law, parents are entitled to request materials or information about their child’s education.
According to a photo of the presentation obtained by WUFT, the statistics shown were that “5 out of 10 Back males in their 20s with diplomas are jobless,” “72% of Black male dropouts in their 20s are unemployed” and “8.4% of Black males are enrolled in gifted and talented classes.” No sources for the statistics were listed.
About 50 people attended Tuesday’s meeting. One club member said most people at the first meeting were Black but it also included students from other races and ethnicities. He said the club is beneficial, and students must keep a 3.5 GPA to be a member.
Alachua County’s achievement gap between Black and white students is the widest in the state for both English and math, according to data from The Florida Department of Education. In English, there is a 45 percentage point difference between Black and white students. The state’s gap is 28 points. In math, there is a 46 percentage point difference. The state’s gap is 31 points.
Former Buchholz High School teacher Armando Grundey-Gomes said he has taught freshmen who didn’t know how to write their own names.
He also said the argument surrounding the high school club isn’t about race but about parents being able to question their child’s education.
“I watched teacher after teacher after teacher ignore parents like Mr. Marsh, and I think it’s shameful.”
Another aspect of the club’s controversy is its leaders.
School Board member Diyonne McGraw’s daughter, Brooksie McGraw, is among one of four club staff members, according to the presentation. She is also the Gainesville High family liaison and a former substitute.
After an email from the concerned parent was forwarded to Brooksie McGraw, she responded by accusing the parent of planning to run against her mother in the next election, the Sun reported.
“The assertion is nothing,” Grundey-Gomes said. “It’s like saying Tina Certain is gonna run for president against Joe Biden.”
Marsh said he appreciated his former partner’s advocacy for their child.
“One of the things that is the most vexing about it is that it tends to feel like there’s a lot of sniping when people’s emotions got hurt,” Marsh said.
Earlier in Florida, Bunnell Elementary in Flagler County generated national controversy after Black fourth- and fifth-grade students there were pulled into an assembly and presented statistics about Black students having poor test scores. The school later confirmed that it selected the students by race, regardless of their achievement levels.
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