Guest column: Problems at ACS go beyond dress codes

The Daily Ardmoreite
Ricky McGee

President NAACP Branch 6148

We, the Ardmore NAACP, tried to arrange a conversation with the Ardmore City Schools Board of Education regarding the First Amendment rights of our students. All of our attempts were buried in the red tape of bureaucracy and denied. So now we are writing to the public, so you know what is happening in our schools.

Ardmore City Schools have been under fire recently because some principals have been forcing students to hide the phrase “Black Lives Matter” by turning their clothing inside out.

When pressed, administrators claimed that principals have the discretion to decide what might be “disruptive” clothing on their campus.

After some confusion, the district has decided to not explicitly ban political clothing. However, the current dress code is still problematic, as it still robs students of their First Amendment rights. Back in the 1960s, students in Des Moines, Iowa, wore black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War. The principal suspended the students for wearing something that might “disrupt the learning environment” (sound familiar?). The students and their parents sued the school, and the case, Tinker v Des Moines, went all the way to the Supreme Court. The high court ruled in February 1969 in a 7-2 decision that students and teachers do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

Thus, under our Constitution, a school dress code cannot explicitly ban clothing because it is political. Even a dress code that does not explicitly ban political speech may run afoul of the Constitution when it is interpreted to do so.

Maybe instead of infringing on students’ freedom of speech, Ardmore City Schools should listen to the students. The students involved here are really young and may not know a lot about hashtags or activist organizations, which is what many adults on both ends of the political spectrum think when they consider Black Lives Matter. However, the children know what is happening each day in their own classrooms and they feel the negative impact.

So, the real question is:

At Ardmore City Schools, do Black Students Matter?

Previous statements from the district are quick to say all students are important, but the data and lived experiences of our young people tell a different story. In addition to all but one school in the district receiving a grade of D from the Oklahoma State Department of Education, there are several issues that have a particularly negative impact on our Black students:

· Scores on standardized tests across the district consistently show Black students scoring significantly lower than peers in any other demographics. A decade ago, this racial achievement gap was negligible, with Jefferson Elementary often outscoring the other schools.

· Teacher retention, especially of Black teachers, is at abysmal rates. While adults might remember having some of the same teachers as their parents and other relatives, today’s students won’t have the same teachers as their siblings with a couple of years difference.

· Black students are suspended at a higher rate than their white peers. If students are not in class, they cannot learn.

· The teachers often turn classroom discipline over to the Ardmore Police Department, which leads to criminal charges for minor classroom violations. Too many Black students are leaving Ardmore High with criminal records, and not enough of them are graduating with diplomas.

This doesn’t sound like Black Students Matter.

Change is needed. The Ardmore NAACP is recommitting itself to helping all students receive a free and appropriate public education.

To do that, we formally requested that the board appoint two of its members to meet with Ardmore NAACP leadership and a trained third-party mediator in an effort to talk things out and move toward solutions.

While our request was sent to the superintendent, the item was not added to the agenda for the June regular meeting, and the board president has said that our request will not be considered.

We tried to arrange a private and official meeting to discuss our issues. If the superintendent and the board are unwilling to work with us on these issues, then we will find other, more public ways, to advocate for ACS students, parents, and faculty. We will continue to share insights and ideas for solutions on the injustices happening within Ardmore City Schools using all media possible.

Several parents have shared personal stories of discrimination experienced by their children in Ardmore City Schools. We encourage others to share their experiences and expect to hold a public forum to discuss the issue.

How many D’s does the district have to receive before the administration and school board do something different? How long until the district decides to show that Black students, and all students, matter and deserve an A+ education?

We will only know the answers to those questions when the people of Ardmore hold our school board accountable for their actions.

— Ricky McGee is the President of NAACP Branch 6148.