Atlanta Public Schools apparently is investigating North Atlanta High’s International Baccalaureate program, the Buckhead Reporter has learned.

APS has declined to release records about the investigation, citing the ongoing investigation as the reason the records can’t be released.

The documentsresulted from complaints several parents made about the IB program in January. The parents, who asked APS officials not to disclose their names, sent a letter to Deputy Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Karen Waldon in February, asking for the program to be audited and investigated within 30 days. The letter alleges pervasive and systemic racism within the program.

The parents said if APS did not address their concerns, they would lodge a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights.

The parents’ complaints came months before Board Chairman Reuben McDaniel launched his own investigation into allegations of racism at the school, including the IB program. McDaniel’s personal investigation, revealed in email correspondence, occurred in August, before APS officials removed and reassigned the school’s leadership on Oct. 5.

APS officials have said the personnel changes at the school were about academics and not complaints about racism at the school.

A spokesman for the U.S. DOE said the agency has not received any complaints related to North Atlanta. The spokesman did confirm, however, that it received a complaint against APS in June alleging the school system discriminated against students with disabilities but said it had nothing to do with any of Atlanta’s public high schools.

After confirming that parents at North Atlanta did not file a complaint with the U.S. DOE, the Buckhead Reporter asked APS for a copy of the audit or investigation report the parents requested. APS sent the following response, with emphasis added to a key section:

“The information you have requested below does exist, however it is exempt from release pursuant to the following indicated legal authority of O.C.G.A. § 50-18-72 (a)(8). Records that consist of confidential evaluations submitted to, or examinations prepared by, a governmental agency and prepared in connection with the appointment or hiring of a public officer or employee; and records consisting of material obtained in investigations related to the suspension, firing, or investigation of complaints against public officers or employees until 10 days after the same has been presented to the agency or an officer for action or the investigation is otherwise concluded or terminated, provided that this paragraph shall not be interpreted to make such investigatory records privileged.”

APS spokesman Stephen Alford was unable to provide a clear answer as to whether the documents were being withheld because of a separate investigation of the IB program, or whether they were part of an investigation into alleged grade changing at the high school. A copy of the letter Waldon received was forwarded to the APS Office of Internal Compliance and Alford indicated the records the Buckhead Reporter requested were being handled within the same office.

Alford suggested these records might not exist, contrary to the official response APS provided to the records request.

“Because they’re working on an investigation dealing with North Atlanta right now, there’s no information they can release that may be aligned with what’s in that letter….,” Alford said. “If there is an audit related to that letter and it’s closed, it would be the expectation the information would be released unless it was related to any type of inquiry right now.”

Before publishing this story, the Buckhead Reporter gave Alford several days to reconcile the conflicting statements about what documents APS has related to the complaints in that letter. As of Nov. 15, Alford has been unable to do so.

Under the state Open Records law, governments do have to provide a justification for withholding any records responsive to an open records request.

Even though the investigation lodged with the Office of Civil Rights has nothing to do with North Atlanta, the existence of such an investigation was not made public prior to the Buckhead Reporter’s request. Here is the official response from the U.S. Education Department about that complaint:

OCR received a complaint in June against the Atlanta city school district.  The office began an investigation in July, probing allegations in the complaint that the district discriminated against various students on the basis of their disabilities by denying them a free appropriate public education (FAPE).  And, allegedly failing to implement their individualized education programs (IEPs).  NOTE that this case does NOT involve North Atlanta High School.

Jim Bradshaw
U.S. Department of Education press office

Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt wrote for Reporter Newspapers from 2011 - 2014. He is the founder and editor of Decaturish.com