Parents of Southwest DeKalb High School band members criticized the DeKalb County Board of Education at a recent board meeting for suspending all marching band activity and accused Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson of being “in over her head.”
DeKalb County Schools suspended all marching band activity after reports surfaced in the media of hazing incidents at Florida A&M University involving former DeKalb graduates, including one that resulted in the death of Robert Champion, who attended Southwest DeKalb.
Southwest DeKalb Band Booster President Keith Sailor said officials have not yet revealed the nature or details of the investigation. Those actions showed a blatant distrust for band directors, students and teachers, he said.
“You’ve done a poor job of taking control of the situation. With a county-wide suspension and investigation that your team announced to the media you’ve made all of our kids suspects,” Sailor said.
Sailor accused board members and school officials of putting students’ ability to obtain scholarships in jeopardy. Greta Mason, a parent of a band member at Southwest DeKalb, said the legacy of the school’s music program, musicians and instructors had been distorted, and asked officials to help restore its reputation and end the suspension.
“I would like the board members to restore the morale that has been tarnished,” Mason said.
School Board Chairman Eugene Walker said he, board member Jesse Cunningham and Atkinson met with parents and Sailor over the winter break to discuss the details of the suspension.
“We heard the explanation of the superintendent about why this measure was taken,” Walker said. “From an administrative perspective, she wanted to be proactive and not inhibit anyone from going forward in band, but to ensure proper procedures and protocol are in place.”
Walker said Atkinson assured those they met with that if any student encountered difficulty in obtaining a scholarship she would personally intervene.
“We have a meeting with the principals and band directors scheduled for [Jan.10]. and at the conclusion of that, after we’ve had time to have internal conversation and dialogue, we will then move out to schools,” Atkinson said.
School spokesman Walter Woods said each band was being evaluated on a “case-by-case” basis and the system appreciates the support it receives from booster and parents.
“This is not about students—this is about adults and making sure they are following the policies that have been put in place to ensure that band is positive and safe,” Woods said.