ACC writes letter alleging civil rights violated by system
The Atmore Citizens for Change Monday submitted a formal complaint with the Alabama State Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Civil Rights on behalf of the students of the public schools in the city of Atmore in regard to alleged violations of their civil rights and education in the Escambia County School System, according to a release.
According to the release, the ACC is requesting that the state department of education “force” the school system to release all public documents that were requested per the Alabama Open Records Act, Section 36-12-40. Additionally, the ACC is requesting records as part of an approved Atmore City Council vote, which was held in March 2019, to study the feasibility of separating from the school system.
In the letter, the ACC described the nature of its complaint to the ADOE.
According to the letter, after the announcement of Escambia County High School being on the state’s failing schools list for a third year in a row with no change/intervention from its county school system, the ACC initiated exploratory efforts to form a city school system. This process began early in 2019.
The Alabama State Department of Education’s failing schools list is based on test results in math and reading from the ACT Aspire test. The test is given on one day during the school year to one grade. The list includes the bottom 6 percent of all schools in the state.
ECHS Principal Dennis Fuqua said the school and system has taken measures to help improve the test grades.
Fuqua said the school purchased John Baylor’s On to College program for all junior class members to help expose them to a nationally-recognized ACT prep program; all juniors take ACT prep classes one hour a day and ECHS is the only school in the system that enacts this program; held multiple Saturday events for student enrichment and ACT prep; and teachers received professional development from Dr. Wycondia West, along with student classes.
Additionally, the school report card for ECHS has gone up eight points in the last two years.
“This letter’s attentional is just a negative weight for our students to have to carry, and a focus on the past the will stand in the way of positively looking ahead,” Fuqua said.
According to the letter, the ACC said that in August 2019, the feasibility study was stalled by ECSS Superintendent John Knott and the board of education, allegedly. In fact, the study was put on hold shortly after the contract was signed, according to Advance archives.
Dr. Ira Harvey, of Decision Resources LLC, who is leading the study, said in an email Monday that “to date, the county board has failed to provide any information as requested by written request and telephone calls. I have no information as to the reason.”
Additionally, the letter alleges that Knott has been meeting with Atmore Mayor Jim Staff, and the organization was told that the superintendent wants the city to “thwart the feasibility study.”
“Knott is telling folks that he will not allow Atmore to have anything that belongs to the county: buildings, equipment, etc.” the letter stated. “He says that he will not allow ‘his’ students who live outside city limits to attend any Atmore City System School and that the mayor is going to help him [Knott].”
Staff said in a telephone call Monday that he did talk with Knott, and gave him a letter from the city to release everything that was needed, adding that there wasn’t anybody but the superintendent and himself in the meeting.
“All I can say is that we gave them what we had,” Staff said. “He’s got all of that. Ira Harvey, he has everything that we have.”
Superintendent Eric Mackey said the following in a reply by email to ACC President Loumeek White.
“While the State Department of Education is not the proper venue to receive a complaint under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, I gather from your email that you have filed something with the U.S. Department of Justice, in which case, it would be inappropriate for me to respond to that matter,” Mackey wrote. “I am, however, copying Dr. Ira Harvey, referenced in your email. I will invite him and Superintendent Knott to follow up with me at their convenience to work out any differences necessary to acquire any publicly available information.”
After repeated attempts, phone calls were not returned by Knott as of press time Monday. The Atmore Advance went to press early on Monday because of the New Year’s Holiday.