BPS Superintendent stands by apology letter

By: Linda Shepard | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published March 5, 2019

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BIRMINGHAM — Birmingham Public Schools Superintendent Mark Dziatczak said he stands by an apology letter sent to district parents and staffers regarding a district high school African-American history class.

“It is clear that the district failed its obligation to provide an African American History course pilot that was both appropriate for our students and reflected the necessary input from our community, including the voices of many students, parents, teachers and administrators,” the letter from Dziatczak states. “We recognize that the resources listed in the course pilot syllabus failed to meet the depth and breadth of African American history. The syllabus that was distributed to students in our African American History course pilot should never have reached our students’ desks.”

The apology letter was in response to a recent Bridge Magazine column that criticized the African-American history class’ syllabus, which included the film “Boyz ‘N the Hood,” the documentary “Inside the Bloods and Crips” and readings from “The New Jim Crow.”

The Bridge Magazine column was written by the parent of a student taking the course.

“My initial concern and fear was that the class was using fictional movies with racial stereotypes to teach history,” Chastity Pratt, who wrote the Bridge Magazine column, said.

“I really appreciate that the teacher believed that African-American history is important,” she said. “But the design of the class was flawed. It was 50 years (of history) about gang banging and prison. It didn’t even mention Barack Obama.”    

During the Feb. 26 Birmingham Public Schools Board of Education meeting, several district parents spoke on the subject.

“This is a complex issue,” said Arthur Jack, the parent leader of the Birmingham African American Family Network. “Students expected that the class would capture the full black experience and all the contributions black Americans have made to this country.”

Jack said the course should “teach the fullness of black history — it is constantly changing.” He also recommended getting input from students and hiring an African-American teacher to teach the course.  

But Scott Craig, who is white and is the teacher and originator of the course, said he is qualified on the subject.

“I have had a lifetime commitment to civil rights,” he said. “My parents were involved in the civil rights movement in the early ’60s. They were involved in fair housing. I did a master’s degree in African-American and labor history.”

Craig also said the class syllabus was distributed in error.

“I was not going to show ‘Boyz ‘N the Hood.’ It was an old syllabus,” he said.

“I’ve studied this my whole life,” he said. “I’ve worked for Birmingham schools for 32 years. I’ve been in every civil rights diversity issue committee. I have a diversity club, and I’ve organized 15 of the last Martin Luther King Jr. Day assemblies at City Hall.

“When I decided to create this course, I saw a need,” he said. “White kids don’t understand racism.”

A gap in history books between Civil War reconstruction and the civil rights movement needed attention, he said.

“My department head and principal reviewed the class and signed off on it,” Craig said. “I was thrown under the bus by the letter sent by the superintendent.”

But Dziatczak said he stands by his apology letter.

“I feel the deep, deep obligation to work with our community and our students to address this in a way that benefits the reputation of the school district,” he said. “I appreciate all the offers from the parents that expressed a willingness to walk with us to make this happen. I stand by what I wrote. We can do better for the students of Birmingham and for this community.”

Pratt said she has spoken with a number of school officials after the column was published. “They have all been very responsive and very candid,” she said. “I think that by the end of the year, it will all work out and we will have something we are all happy with.”

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