Dan Whisenhunt, Associate Editor/Digital Content Manager
Dan Whisenhunt, Associate Editor/Digital Content Manager

Black and white parents are locked in a cold war over the future of North Atlanta High. The conflict arises from a question that’s dogged the school for years.

Is the high school’s system of dividing students into small learning communities also dividing students based on race?

A recent report produced by Atlanta Public Schools found no evidence of this. Some in the Buckhead community cheered the report as a vindication. The investigators consoled students who made the allegations, telling them they acted bravely.

Since the leadership changes at the school a year ago, new Principal Howard Taylor has reorganized some of the learning communities in response to the concerns.

I think the report raises deeper issues. This episode taught the North Atlanta community some fundamentally flawed lessons.

To the parents celebrating the report’s conclusions, you have nothing to celebrate. This report isn’t a vindication. It’s an embarrassment. It’s an indication that some of your fellow parents don’t feel comfortable openly discussing their concerns about North Atlanta.

To the parents decrying racism, your students shouldn’t be commended for making allegations that turned out to be untrue. All of our students should feel welcomed and should be treated fairly. Teachers deserve to be treated fairly, too. False accusations could ruin their careers.

If there’s any unequivocal fault here, it’s in the way APS addressed the concerns parents brought to their attention.

This 166-page report produced by APS investigators is a contradictory and convoluted document. It’s clear the investigators took the position of “guilty until proven innocent” with regard to the allegations made against the school’s staff.

The disagreements at North Atlanta cannot be resolved by anonymous allegations and partisan investigations. It requires openness and honesty.

We have to remember that while the allegations made by black students and parents didn’t pan out, there is a history of discrimination in this country. The legacy of slavery and Jim Crow remains with us.

Almost every major meaningful statistic measuring the quality of life in this country shows that we may all be created equal, but we don’t all live equally.

According to the Pew Research Center, black Americans are three times more likely to live in poverty than white Americans. Pew also found that in 2010, “the incarceration rate for white men under local, state and federal jurisdiction was 678 inmates per 100,000 white U.S. residents; for black men, it was 4,347.” According to Pew, the median household income for whites in 2011 was $67,175. It was $39,760 for blacks.

White privilege exists. That doesn’t mean all whites created it, but all whites do benefit even if we don’t realize that we do. Leveling the playing field is everyone’s moral responsibility.

The source of the controversy at North Atlanta is also the solution. Quality education hastens equality and opportunity. Unfortunately, the grown-ups in charge at North Atlanta have turned the solution into a battleground. Kids have become proxies in a conflict between adults.

If there’s any chance of something positive coming out of this, it will require real leadership.

I will repeat what I suggested to North Atlanta parents a year ago when these allegations surfaced. North Atlanta parents should invite facilitators from the Southern Poverty Law Center into their school to conduct an equity audit. Unlike an APS investigation, auditors with no stake in the outcome would start an open dialogue. It’s an opportunity for both sides to talk about things rationally. Some of that discussion might be painful, but it will be necessary.

If this flawed report is the final word on the matter, these allegations will continue to fester and divide North Atlanta.

If there’s one thing that all parents at North Atlanta have in common, it’s the love they have for their children. Their future and the future of that school will depend on the next choices parents make.

Make those choices as adults and make them count.

Dan Whisenhunt wrote for Reporter Newspapers from 2011-2014. He is the founder and editor of Decaturish.com