Black male students ‘hand-selected’ for newly formed GHS club spurs parent complaint

Approximately 30 Black male students were “hand-selected” to be part of a discrete and newly created club at an Alachua County high school to better prepare them for graduation while also being given statistics about how they are less likely to succeed.

School officials initially argued the club was meant for high-achieving students, while others in leadership say it’s meant to help at-risk youth.

While well intended, the formation of the meeting may have violated state and federal laws, in addition to district policies, by selecting participants based on their race and/or gender. The incident paints similarities to a Flagler County elementary school that just days earlier caught national attention for holding an assembly where Black students were told they could end up in jail or killed unless they did better in school.

On Aug. 23, dozens of ninth-grade students at Gainesville High School were given purple slips telling them to skip their regularly scheduled lunch and to ask their teachers for early release to join the first cohort of the newly established “Club G.A.I.N.” They were expected to arrive on time, the note said underlined.

Though Superintendent Shane Andrew and school leaders have since argued that the meeting had students of different races and was voluntary, images suggest otherwise and students in the room say the meeting appeared to be mandated.

A group of Black students at Gainesville High School were given a slip telling them to skip their lunch and attend a club meeting where they were presented with stats about how Black students without diplomas are less likely to succeed. No stats were given for other races. District officials said the meeting was optional and standard procedure for the club.

Alachua County officials, however, have since discontinued the club’s name following a complaint from a parent and are now claiming the meeting was standard protocol as part of another long-running statewide initiative that allows them the ability to select male students who are minorities.

Pre-Collegiate is a school-based club that has been active at GHS for many years,” Andrew wrote to the parent in a Sept. 11 email, as required by the state’s Parents’ Bill of Rights law. “… Neither the District Administration nor the Alachua County School Board is involved with approving specific club presentations at the schools in the District.”

Controversial club meeting

A presentation was given to students that day by GHS Family Liason Brooksie McGraw − daughter of School Board member Diyonne McGraw − and stated that “5 out of 10 black males in their 20’s WITH diplomas are jobless” and “72% of black males who drop out in their 20’s are unemployed.”

Diyonne McGraw, who was also in attendance, posted an image on Facebook of her daughter giving the presentation to a room of predominately Black students. “Miss Brooksie explaining to students the goals and objective of Club G.A.I.N.,” she wrote. 

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Though it’s still unclear what the acronym stands for, there is no available information on the GHS or district’s website and parents weren’t informed in advance of the meeting, despite district policy requiring both to be done.

The concerned parent, who The Gainesville Sun is not identifying to protect the identity of the student per district policy, says they even called the school to find out more information but came up empty.

Despite district policy stating that clubs must be open to all eligible students, the superintendent acknowledged only boys were selected and attendees were “predominately African Americans.”

“… Invitations were given to all 9th grade boys who were minorities or underrepresented as per 1007.35, Florida Statutes,” Andrew wrote. “‘Underrepresented’ typically means Hispanic or African American.”

A group of mostly Black students were assembled during their lunch period on Aug. 23 at Gainesville High School and given a presentation about how Black students without diplomas are less likely to succeed. No stats were given for other races.

Emails with unclear answers

After learning about the club meeting, the parent reached out to the district again seeking more information and expressing frustration with the perceived message in the presentation being sent to the children told to attend. The email was then forwarded to Brooksie McGraw, who was hired by the district just weeks earlier and not listed anywhere on district websites.

McGraw, a Black woman, replied with details about the club, saying it is the first year and that it is a sub-group under the “pre-collegiate” program that strives to aid in scholarships and post-secondary education for above-average students. The idea is to mentor students and bridge the district’s achievement gap, which is among the worst in the state. GHS has also been a pre-collegiate program school for decades.

Her message, however, wasn’t received well after she asked the parent to not make the issue political, adding that she knew the parent intended to run against her mother during the next election.

The parent, who is involved in local politics, has denied she has any intention of running for office herself. She responded to the email by asking for the presentation shown to her son multiple times.

“I hope you’re ready to run a great race,” McGraw replied. “I will send you this and remove your child as well!”

GHS Principal Daniel Ferguson later responded to the parent saying the club was under the state’s pre-collegiate program and was intended to serve low-performing, at-risk youth. The message seemed to counter what McGraw had shared earlier about the club being steered toward above-average students.

Andrew has since shared that white, Asian and Hispanic students were also invited to the meeting and suggested those students had a different lunch period and attended another meeting that same day, where the same statistics would’ve been presented. However, no one in the district has been able to confirm that other meetings have occurred since the incident.

“The meeting on August 22, 2023 for Pre-Collegiate was one of many lunch meetings that day for various clubs at GHS as part of Club Sign-Up Week,” Andrew wrote, seemingly referencing an earlier canceled meeting for Club G.AI.N. “Club Sign-Up Week is for incoming freshmen to familiarize them with what clubs were available at GHS. A student could choose to attend but was not required to do so.”

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Sign-up week is typically held in larger rooms, like cafeterias, where students can walk around and ask for information about clubs before joining. Rarely are kids pulled away or selected to join clubs without prior expressing interest.

Pre-collegiate program participants are also often identified through standardized testing, which the freshman group has not taken yet, and doesn’t exclude women. Coordinators of the program must also have teaching certificates, which McGraw does not.

Despite the parent receiving multiple messages from district officials, it’s still unclear how students were selected for Club G.A.I.N., why the vast majority in attendance were Black and why only statistics of Black males were given.

It’s also unclear why the district chose to suddenly discontinue the group’s name and is now solely referencing it as “Pre-Collegiate,” an umbrella term used by the state for programs under its purview.

State and federal laws say that programs and clubs can’t restrict access to others based on their race, color or sex. Separating students could also result in a Title IV investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights if there is reason to believe that students are believed to receive different treatment.

Flagler County

A similar incident occurred in Flagler County at Bunnell Elementary School days before Alachua County’s meeting. Educators there pulled fourth and fifth-grade students into a special assembly and presented them with statistics about Black students having poor test scores.

The district confirmed that students were selected by race, regardless of their achievement levels, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reported on Aug. 22.

Bunnell Elementary School in Flagler County

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Outraged parents have shared that their children were told they would end up dead or in jail if they didn’t do well in school, other outlets reported.

“This was solely based off of color, “ said the parent of a mixed-race fifth-grade student, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reported.

The superintendent of Flagler schools, who is Black, apologized for the assembly on Aug. 24 and said it should not have happened. Last week, the school’s principal and teacher who ran the racially segregated assembly, and is Black, resigned.

Much like in Alachua County, students at the school were also given a brief presentation with statistics, though the elementary school’s data was steered toward Black students having worse test scores than white students, resulting in worse long-term outcomes.

Taking action

Due to the district administration and superintendent not responding to the parent’s questions within the legally required 10-day timeframe, in accordance with the Parents’ Bill of Rights, the GHS club issue is expected to be brought up at the upcoming Sept. 19 meeting.

Board member Diyonne McGraw, who was previously removed by Gov. Ron DeSantis for living outside her district, has already begun rallying support for her daughter’s program on Facebook.

“I need as many citizens as possible to attend because pre-collegiate is under attack! If you were a member of pre-collegiate you need to be present!” she wrote Wednesday.

As for the Alachua County parent, she said she’s still looking for answers that make sense.

“I’m really disappointed by the amount of misinformation and lies I’ve been told by district employees,” the GHS parent told The Sun. “Every single official who has contacted me had no clear answer on why there was a room full of Black male students who were only given negative statistics about Black males.”

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