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Message from the Superintendent: Crucial Conversations
Superintendent Dr. Terry OattsTo our RCPS Families, Staff, and Community,
 
This is indeed a very challenging time for our nation amid social unrest tragically stemming from both unfamiliar and familiar crises – a once-in-a-century global public health pandemic that is disproportionately ravaging populations of color, particularly African-Americans, and the egregious death of George Floyd that was subsequently ruled a homicide. At a time when the public health consensus is that we must practice social distancing and wear face coverings to thwart the spread of COVID-19, the popular civic impulse compels many to come together to unmask a persistent epidemic of a different but no less lethal sort – the recurrent and violent deaths of unarmed African-American men and women at the hands of law enforcement personnel. As the Superintendent of Rockdale County Public Schools (RCPS) where the vast majority of our students are African-American, and as the father of a young adult African-American male, a nearly teenaged African-American male, and a teenaged African-American female, the past two weeks have been particularly challenging. When my 12-year-old son, who holds law enforcement personnel in high regard and who has expressed a career interest in law enforcement, after viewing the disturbing video painfully and perplexingly asked his mother, “Why did the police officer kill that man?,” that was a difficult moment.
 
As protests continue nationwide and across the world in support of responsible policing and public safety reform, it is appropriate for all of us to pause for a moment of reflection and ask "What is it that we can do to make things better?" I would be remiss if I did not publicly commend our local law enforcement in Rockdale County and the City of Conyers for their strong partnership with Rockdale County Public Schools in ensuring the safety and well-being of our students. I have personally seen the tremendously positive relationship that exists between our School Resource Officers (SROs) and our students at our schools. The collaboration and coordination between local law enforcement and RCPS are exceptional. The programs that we have in place whereby officers get to engage directly with students in a constructive manner lay the foundation for positive relationships between our communities and law enforcement.
 
Notwithstanding our progress here in Rockdale County, and conceding the principle of presumption of innocence until proven guilty, it is necessary and appropriate for people of goodwill to speak out candidly and with moral clarity against instances in which those entrusted with ensuring public safety so brazenly violate it. Enshrined within the Bill of Rights is a fundamental right of citizens to peaceably assemble to petition the government for a redress of grievances. This right is as old as our Constitution as it is guaranteed within its First Amendment. I applaud our Rockdale County residents for their peaceful protests; such peaceful protests by citizens have occurred all across the country. While many of those who have resorted to unpeaceful protests are no less outraged at violations of public trust by public officials, such displays of destructive protests only serve to distract from the cause of insisting that equal protection under the law holds true at all times, including when unarmed African-Americans are repeatedly and disproportionately victimized by excessive and undue lethal force while in the custody of law enforcement personnel.
 
"What is it that we can do to make things better?" We are committed to the work that must take place within ourselves, within our schools, within our communities in order to build a positive future for our children. RCPS will leverage these challenging times as authentic teachable moments for our staff and especially our students to engage in constructive dialogue and action, in part, guided by relevant curricular standards. We will continue to prioritize ensuring that our students are a constructive force for positive change through their public service and volunteer opportunities and by their active participation in appropriate extracurricular and co-curricular activities and clubs.
 
We love all our students, and our students’ demographic diversity is one of the biggest strengths of RCPS. With respect to the public health pandemic and issues of public safety, the Rockdale County Board of Education and I will continue to prioritize our students’ safety and well-being above all else.
 
Dr. Terry O. Oatts, Ed.D.
Superintendent
Rockdale County Public Schools