In a riveting resignation, Cobb County Schools counselor and Black Lives Matter activist, Jennifer Susko leaves the district citing the mounting outcry around the critical race theory debate.
Dear Mr. Ragsdale, et. al:
It is with deep sadness that I resign from the Cobb County School District in an act of protest against the recent ban on antiracism and DEIJ [Editor’s note: Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice] as well as the district’s longstanding mistreatment of Black families who have been ignored while demanding solutions to the ongoing racism in your school system for many years. As we know, Black children and parents stood often at the microphone during school board meetings sharing their lived experiences of race-based trauma in schools while you fidgeted with your cell phone, Mr. Banks rolled his eyes, and Mr. Scamihorn denied that their experiences even occur. These are but a few among a host of other forms of dismissiveness.
Despite this ever-present anti-Blackness, we did make incremental progress. Caring, informed, diverse groups of educators and community members have achieved measurable, albeit insufficient, systemic change over the last several years. Our consistent advocacy for marginalized students in South Cobb has resulted in some excellent culturally relevant programs and department initiatives. I will not name those departments and programs publicly. Based on history, those advocating only for white students will certainly launch an attack to eliminate such curriculum, pedagogy, and resources that benefit all students. I will not name the associated teachers. Based on history, those advocating only for white students will attempt to strip them of freedom to implement best practices and will tie them erroneously to Critical Race Theory (CRT). Nonetheless, you know the departments and programs of which I speak.
When the bombardment of contempt from the misled and uninformed occurs toward those particular efforts this year, I hope you will stand strong for students and faculty. Presently, the reactionary and cowardly approach of deploying your executive cabinet to schools to dismantle any effort causing white people discomfort underscores the weight of pressure from a minority group of uninformed people who erroneously believe they get to speak on behalf of all Cobb families. The quintessential call for leadership is the willingness to withstand pressure and still be bold enough to do what is in the best interest of every single student.Jennifer Susko
Though I am heartbroken to leave my students who I love dearly and my colleagues, I know I cannot do my job as a school counselor ethically under the current style of leadership which thwarts research and expertise on racism and its effects on mental health. To ensure that I do not cause harm to Black students in my work as a white counselor, it is vital that I study scholarly literature and theory to understand the history of racism and its specific impact on individuals and families over generations. No white mental health professional should be working with BIPOC students without understanding race-based trauma. Failing to navigate this cross-cultural counseling relationship adeptly can cause minoritized students harm. Since the ban on CRT conflates many approaches and practices related to antiracism, Cobb County School District is asking me to violate my school counseling ethics by prohibiting that I prepare myself to be a culturally sustaining school counselor. My students come to me with race-based trauma and questions about their identity and experiences. The district is asking me to obfuscate history, ignore my commitment to educational justice and deny these students voice or validation. Paying homage to Nikole Hannah-Jones, I refuse.
I have received only excellent evaluations while at CCSD. I have received national awards and recognition for my work. As a result, you’ve been unable to penalize me professionally to date. Now, with the introduction of the unclear and undefined “ban,” I can be reprimanded for examining and addressing issues that directly harm my students. It has been made very clear that I will be watched closely and disciplined for adhering to my ethical obligations and for implementing an anti-racist framework. Such intimidation and threats against my vocation and livelihood are toxic. I cannot spend the entire school year justifying my integrity and performance at the expense of serving my students.
My approach has never been about making a Black child feel like a victim or telling a white student that they are inherently racist. Yet, the district and school leadership persist in inventing their own inaccurate definitions of CRT and ascribing them to me. It boggles the mind to consider how Mr. Scamihorn wrote an entire resolution to prohibit CRT and presented it unprepared to define that which he is so adamantly against. When Mr. Hutchins asked the chairman to define what would be banned for clarity purposes, Mr. Scamihorn replied, “Well, having never been asked that question before, I can’t.” As a once-proud 7th-grade student told you all at the July board meeting, CCSD leadership has become shameful.
Since the bewildering ban, I’ve experienced bullying, harassment, and defamation of character. My personal information has been posted online. While my community and colleagues have surrounded me with support, they have also recommended installing a security system at my home. Fear and political allegiance have created this dangerous environment. It threatens my safety and my ability to provide my students with what they are due.
Though I can no longer remain in my job under present leadership without either compromising my values to use a harmful and dishonest approach or being fired swiftly for doing what’s right, I will not abandon students and families. I will persist in my attempts to dismantle systemic racism in CCSD. Committed to antiracism and propelled by the work of Black feminists, Civil Rights leaders, and organizers of the past and present, I am obligated to take risks and sacrifice things I love sometimes. In this case, it’s my job. But many wonderful people in our community have demonstrated their support of me remaining in this district. They’ve also comforted me through this incredibly painful decision.
Therefore, as a post 6 resident (and taxpayer!) who is no longer constrained by the suppression and censorship inflicted on employees, I will speak out even more candidly against racism in schools, a campaign to flip folks out of school board seats who do not deserve to be there, and organize with Black and brown families as long as they ask me to in their efforts to be heard.
In the meantime, I will share with you the updated position statement from the American School Counseling Association (ASCA) on The School Counselor and Anti-Racist Practices. My “agenda” is not arbitrary or something I created on my own; it is required by the very organization that you celebrate and recognize at your own meetings.
I’ll see you again soon.