Media Politics

Was WSB-TV trying to invoke the Atlanta schools cheating scandal by making false statements about a metro area high school? 

Yesterday, WSB-TV’s Tyiesha Fernandes did a story that on its face appeared to be an uplifting article. She reported about all 500 students in Westlake High School’s graduating class of 2020 going to college or the military.

She led the story with “For many years, students had failing scores. The Class of 2020 says their changing that.” What is the problem?  The school had not been failing leading up to 2020. 

When challenged by students and parents on twitter and Facebook, Fernandes doubled down on her story.  She tweeted “Here are the scores for the school that I got from the principal you’re speaking of.” Yet by her own stats the school received B and C ratings for at least the last six years.   

Luckily, the school’s current principal Jamar Robinson @JKRobinsonEDU very politely corrected her on twitter with a fourteen tweet response thanking her for the story yet pointing out how misleading it was. More importantly his response confirmed she lied about getting stats from the principal as she claimed. He says in his tweet, “I wish we could have met or talked before the story aired.”

Westlake supporters posted the correct CCPRI scores that did not show failing scores. The truth is Westlake’s overall performance is higher than 80% of the schools in the state, its graduation rate is 92.3% which is higher than 74% of the schools in the state, and the school is a “Beating the Odds” school because it is performing far better than schools with similar demographics.

The politics of this is important in the metro area.   We all remember that in 2009 more than thirty educators were accused and later indicted for suddenly making failing schools appear to exceed overnight.   Such an inference, even when framed from a positive point of view, immediately places a stigma on the school and surrounding community.

The story of an entire graduating class going to college is a good story on its own.  There was not a need to embellish.  Particularly when the embellishment feeds into negative stereotypes of the black community and highlights the north vs. south Fulton County divide. Especially now when we are examining systemic bias and racism in our country.

It is a reminder we have to hold the media accountable for their role in systemic bias and racism throughout the history of America.  The media has been a willing participant in the portrayal of African Americans as criminals and failures.  Particularly African American children.  Biased media portrayals is fuel for a racist person’s fire.  They use it as justification for their beliefs.    

Let’s hope WSB-TV and Ms. Fernandes corrects their errors publicly. Otherwise when the class of 2021 begins applying to colleges, those institutions may also think they are coming from a “failing school.” 

The last thing we need to do is send these 500 graduates into colleges across the country thinking they attended a “failing” school if they did not.  That thought will make it harder to navigate college as they go in with a chip placed on their shoulder by the media.  These kids need to know they attended a school with 30 years of graduating judges, law makers, entrepreneurs and more.  Not a failing school.

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