Parent says Atlanta elementary school segregated students, U.S. Department of Education investigates

ATLANTA — An Atlanta parent has filed a complaint with the Atlanta Public School District and the U.S. Department of Education claiming that her child’s school is segregating classes based on race.

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Kila Posey, a former Atlanta Public Schools employee, said the principal at Mary Lin Elementary School segregated classes based on race last year, WSBTV reported.

Posey has two children enrolled at the school, CNN reported.

“We’ve lost sleep like trying to figure out why would a person do this,” Posey told WSBTV.

She said the assignments were developed and approved by principal Sharyn Briscoe.

“First, it was just disbelief that I was having this conversation in 2020 with a person that looks just like me — a Black woman,” Posey told WSBTV. “It’s segregating classrooms. You cannot segregate classrooms. You can’t do that.”

Posey said about 13 Black second-grade students were put in two classes with two separate teachers, CNN reported. White students were put in six classes with six different teachers, WSBTV reported.

When Posey found out she said she contacted Briscoe to have her child placed in a different class, one with a teacher that would be a good fit with her child. But Posey said Briscoe refused.

“She said that’s not one of the Black classes, and I immediately said, ‘What does that mean?’ I was confused. I asked for more clarification. I was like, ‘We have those in the school?’ And she proceeded to say, ‘Yes, I have decided that I’m going to place all the Black students in two classes,’” Posey told WSBTV.

When Posey told Briscoe to put her child in a class with white students, Posey said Briscoe said the student would be isolated.

“I explained to her (Briscoe) she (Posey’s daughter) shouldn’t be isolated or punished because I’m unwilling to go along with your illegal and unethical practice,” Posey said.

“As a Black parent, what I’m hearing is my kid doesn’t have the options of six teachers that may work with her learning style,” Posey told NBC News. “I only get two [teachers]. How is that right? A white parent can get all six.”

Posey said Briscoe told her the Black students were together to build a community, NBC News reported.

Posey contacted an assistant principal to complain about the classroom structure, recording the call between her and the school. The assistant principal confirmed that it was Briscoe’s decision and explained why the classes were set up the way they are.

“I just wish we had more Black kids, and then some of them are in a class because of the services that they need,” the unidentified assistant principal said on the call.

NBC News reached out to Briscoe who did not respond to requests for comment.

Parents of other students at Mary Lin Elementary school disputed Briscoe’s account, telling Atlanta Intown that to their knowledge, children were never segregated by race. Rian Smith said the allegations are “factually inaccurate” and Stacee White said she was “bewildered” by Briscoe’s complaint. Smith also defended Principal Briscoe.

The school had 599 students enrolled in the 2020-2021 school year, according to Georgia’s Department of Education data. Sixty of the students are Black. Second-grade has 98 students enrolled with 12 Black students, 70 white students and the other students listed as Asian or two or more races.

Click here to see the data, and select March 4, 2021, for the “Enrollment Count” drop-down, “Atlanta Public Schools” for the school district option and “Mary Lin Elementary School” for the School Level Report drop-down menu.

Posey has filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

She has also hired an attorney who said what the school is doing is against Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 says that you cannot treat one group of people differently based upon race, and that is what is going on at Mary Lin,” attorney Sharese Shields told WSBTV.

The DOE complaint, given to CNN by Shields, alleges that some classes in the school “had been formulated, in part, based upon race of the students” last school year.

“To our knowledge, (the principal) designated these black classes without the knowledge or consent of the families of the affected black students. Instead, she unilaterally decided what was in the best interests of the black students, relegating them to only those classes she deemed appropriate,” Posey said in the complaint, according to CNN.

The school district, when asked about Mary Lin Elementary School’s structure, said in a statement to WSBTV: “Atlanta public schools does not condone the assigning of students to classrooms based on race. The district conducted a review of the allegations. Appropriate actions were taken to address the issue and the matter was closed.”

District representatives, however, didn’t say what actions were taken.

Shields told NBC News she is unsure if the school continues to separate some students based on race, or how long the policy had been in place.

Posey said she wants Briscoe and the school’s administration removed for allowing segregated classes at the school.

Posey also said there have been attempts to retaliate against her family after she spoke out about how class assignments were handled.

In the complaint to the Department of Education, Posey said the principal requested that Posey’s husband, who is a school psychologist at Mary Lin Elementary for eight years, be transferred to another school, CNN reported.

Posey, who runs an after-school program through her own company, The Club After School, said the principal tried to end the service, which has been held at Mary Lin Elementary since 2018. She found out during a conversation Posey had with Yolanda Brown, the chief academic officer at Atlanta Public Schools, according to the complaint, CNN reported.

The investigation by the U.S. Department of Education has not been concluded, WSBTV reported.