D. Aileen Dodd, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 25, 2008
A meeting between the Gwinnett County Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks and members of the Gwinnett branch of the NAACP apparently ended Monday in a stalemate.
Gwinnett NAACP branch president Jorge “JP” Portalatin said Wilbanks has refused to apologize for comments he made about the disproportionate discipline of minority students in Gwinnett.
“Mr. Wilbanks refuses to acknowledge that his comments were offensive,” Portalatin said Monday in a statement. “His behavior today was condescending and he was clearly not open to constructive feedback. . . . The inability to see from others perspective and apologize is unacceptable in a leader.”
Portalatin said he would take up the matter next with Carole Boyce, the chairperson of the Gwinnett Board of Education.
A spokesperson for Gwinnett’s schools said Wilbanks had no comment about the meeting with the NAACP.
During a discussion two weeks ago, an administrator said the disproportionate discipline of minorities is a problem for school districts nationwide except in Idaho, according to a study.
Wilbanks then asked: “Do they have any blacks in Idaho? They don’t have many.”
Wilbanks has said his statements were not meant to be “racist” or “insensitive.”
However, the NAACP has asked for Wilbanks to apologize.
Portalatin has said that Wilbanks’ remarks at the meeting seemed to blame African-Americans for the disparity in discipline in Gwinnett instead of what could be the inconsistent application of the discipline penalties. Some Gwinnett parents have called for Wilbanks’ resignation.
Gwinnett school board members and colleagues of Wilbanks have defended him, citing his record of creating a diverse workplace at Gwinnett’s schools and his reputation as a visionary in education who serves all students regardless of race.
“Where are the standards for him?” Tillman asked. “If we can hold a child accountable for their actions, why can’t we hold him accountable.” School board member Dr. Robert McClure has said Wilbanks was simply seeking more information about Idaho demographics during the presentation. Idaho had 272,058 students last school year and only 1.15 percent of them were black. School officials in Idaho, however, said race plays no role in discipline.