Community members filled the School Board of Alachua County’s (SBAC) regular meeting Tuesday evening to talk about a new Gainesville High School (GHS) club at the center of recent controversy.
One parent’s request for information about Club GAIN at GHS in late August grew into a complaint that the information she was provided was unclear and did not meet the state’s 10-day deadline for response time.
A Sept. 14 Gainesville Sun article compared the parent’s complaints against Club GAIN to an assembly at a Flagler County elementary school several weeks ago, where African American students were told their low test scores made them more likely to be shot and killed. The Sun article explored the parent’s concerns and fueled community members’ concerns that GHS Family Liaison Brooksie McGraw and Pre-Collegiate Club was under attack.
The parent, who was not identified in the Sun article or school board meeting to follow district policy and protect the identity of the student, claimed Brooksie McGraw invited only “black male students” to the first meeting of the club.
“All the ninth-grade students at Gainesville High School know that the club is for black boys with bad grades,” the parent wrote in an appeal to the school board. “My son and I talked about stereotypes and stigmas. My son received straight A’s on his first report card and does not have any discipline record in his nine years of schooling, so the ‘low-performing and high-risk’ is a label that he is having a hard time coming to terms with.”
Stephen Marsh, who identified himself as the student’s father, told the board that Brooksie McGraw called him only a few days after the club meeting and told him what the club was. Later that day he received the presentation slides the student’s mother had requested.
The unidentified parent, who SBAC Chair Tina Certain said is the custodial parent, wrote in her appeal that she had to write several emails, specifically citing the Parental Bill of Rights, to get McGraw to respond with the presentation slides.
Marsh said he appreciated his ex’s advocacy for their son and agreed that parents should be included in their children’s school careers, but he said he wanted to clarify for community members that the initial response was timely.
“One of the things that stood out to me in the article was that it said that the program was supposedly for high achieving students,” Marsh said. “But it later said that, by contrast, it was also at-risk youth. And for me, I say, as an engineer, as a black man, as an underrepresented minority in my field in engineering, why not both?”
Much of the parent’s concern stemmed from a question of what Club GAIN was, and how it is different from other Pre-Collegiate Clubs, which were established years ago. She claimed to have received conflicting responses from McGraw and Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) Superintendent Shane Andrew.
McGraw did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.
The parent also expressed concern that African American boys were being hand-picked and recruited for Club GAIN. She said a photo posted to McGraw’s Facebook profile, which now cannot be found, showed a room full of African American boys listening to a presentation of outdated statistics on how likely African American men are to be unemployed.
Citizen Stephanie Seawright said she was at both iterations of the Club GAIN presentation, given over two lunch periods, and that the boys present were of “all different ethnicities,” though there was an African American and Hispanic majority in the group.
Community member John Alexander said he was an at-risk student during high school, and the Pre-Collegiate Club gave him the chance to step onto a college campus, even with his low grade point average (GPA). He said he strongly supports the idea of Club GAIN, and that students are going to see negative data anyway, so it is better for them to hear it in the context of a club which is trying to help them succeed.
“When we went to Pre-Collegiate, we had kids with 4.0s, 3.8s [GPAs], then you had kids like me with a 2.3,” Alexander said. “But the one thing that we all had in common is a dream to succeed. When I hear about this program, that’s what I feel in my gut. I hear a dream to succeed.”
Another community member, Melvena Wilson, was one of many to defend McGraw, saying that McGraw’s attempts with Club GAIN would provide important opportunities for students who should be able to experience a college campus. She said diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) data is used for many things, and should be allowed to be used in school clubs.
“Brooksie cares about who they are as people and what their future is going to be,” Wilson told the board. “I find it hilarious that we can use that same data that she presented to get additional funding, but we can’t use it to justify extracurricular activities and programming.”
The concerned parent also complained that Brooksie McGraw acted unprofessionally, posting information about her son and accusing her of running for the school board against Brooksie’s mother, current Board Member Diyonne McGraw.
Certain said the parent never asked for the club to be discontinued, and the board cannot take action unless there was a violation of policy, so the issue falls under the superintendent’s authority.
Andrew said it would be prudent for him to restrict his comments on the topic because it had already come to the district’s Human Resources office as a formal complaint and was likely to land on his desk.
“As a former principal… I will say we have supported Pre-Collegiate, and will continue to do so,” Andrew said. “What I also have to just say is, rather than doing some things in the public forum, we do need to move on to serve our kids.”