05/18/10 — Citizens speak on equity in schools

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Citizens speak on equity in schools

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 18, 2010 1:46 PM

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Mary Green shares her experience and opinion of the Wayne County School District with representatives of the U.S. Department of Justice and the Office of Civil Rights.

Tricia Haigler produced a school discipline report, citing her sixth-grader with "accessory to theft" after having slid a cafeteria tray to another student who then removed two chicken nuggets.

Mary Green, mother of seven children, said her 6-year-old special needs son can't read and has been suspended more than 20 times this year.

Mary Washington just wanted to know what schools could do to prevent bullying. Her grandson has had "major problems" with threats and violence that resulted in him defending himself, only to be expelled for three days.

There are definitely problems in Wayne County Public Schools, they and other speakers said during a community forum Monday night at Wayne County Public Library -- and the disparities are believed to center around race, particularly targeting young black males, several said.

The two-hour session drew close to 200 people, including members of Boy Scout Troop 755.

Six attorneys, representing the Office of Civil Rights divisions from the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education, conducted the "listening session" as part of a compliance review, examining whether all students are getting the same opportunities to access education regardless of color.

Attorney Rachel Glickman, who moderated the session, said it was in response to a complaint filed in December by the NAACP, alleging "very broad systemic problems with Wayne County Public Schools."

The public forum -- a second will be held tonight at Rebuilding Broken Places, 2105 N. William Street, from 7 to 9 p.m. -- was an opportunity for voices to be heard and those on the dias to collect data.

"It does not mean that we think there are compliance concerns (with the district)," Ms. Glickman said. "Investigation is very early."

She said the group was particularly interested in hearing more about issues related to disparities in school zoning and student transfers; discipline policies and practices; support for academic achievement and graduation; availability of resources, including extracurricular activities; and quality of teachers and administrators.

It was an orderly presentation, but was not short on emotion.

Laura Crawford, whose grandchildren attend the county's schools, said that anyone who believes the district is equal can "shove" the statistics indicating such.

"Our money is not being equally spent to educate our children," she said. "It's divisive. It's been divisive for years. Our children are being extremely underserved in Goldsboro city schools. Our schools are 100 percent segregated."

Steve Smith, of Wayne County Enrichment and Fitness Center, said there is a systemic problem when a school like Goldsboro High has two principals.

"I don't know if it's the teachers, the administration, but I know my daughter came out of there with flying colors," he said. "You just have to support them there with the staff."

Sandra Webb's stepdaughter graduated from Goldsboro High School. The problems she experienced over the years prompted her to transfer her three younger children to other schools.

She said she has long been an advocate for children to have the best possible education, even when it has resulted in her being termed "the crazy woman that blew stuff out of proportion."

She said she raised questions, was often dismissed or denied requests, until one day one of her requests, to transfer the children to other schools, was granted.

And still, she wants to see the inequities changed, if only for others who have not had access to a better education.

"Somebody's got to do something about the differences and how they treat children in the central attendance area," she said. "It's unfair. It's wrong."

Mrs. Haigler, whose child was referenced in "criminal terms" when the discipline report was filed, said she had asked that the report be removed from her child's file but to no avail.

"I have gone to the principal, I have gone to the Board of Education and yet it has yet to be removed," she said. "That's a tragedy, that you would start labeling our children at such an early age."

James Johnson, a member of the Advocates, a coalition formed to create better conditions in the schools, attributed part of the problem to the merger between the county and city schools, years ago.

"It started back when we combined the two school boards," he said. "The county was tired and mad with the folks that lived in the city because we had an extra tax they paid to keep our school up. The state decided they would only fund one school board. They didn't know they were going to open up a can of worms."

The current school board is part of the problem, Johnson said. He said he has been puzzled by claims of "lack of space" in the schools, while he has witnessed virtually empty classrooms in some schools.

Ms. Green admitted the local education issue is an emotional one. Especially for her children with special needs.

"My 6-year-old, he can't read, he's in the first grade," she said. "My son asked me a couple times, 'Mommy, when I get to be 10, will I be able to read?' ...

"It's sad when you have an EC child and that child gets suspended some 20 times, and can't read. Every day they're suspended they get further and further behind. Something needs to be done about it."

Michelle Moore questioned the transfer policy, asking who actually gets to take advantage of it. She said oftentimes the list of available schools will be published, only to indicate that most of the schools are already at capacity.

"Where were the slots that were available? By the time they send them out, they're already full -- schools like Spring Creek -- where did the slots go? That's not fair," she said.

Wataqua Cox has two children in the district, but they attend in the county. She has been pleased with their education, but was at the meeting to talk about her niece, who went to Goldsboro High.

"My experience there was not a pleasant one," she said. "I had my fill there several years ago.

"We need better teachers, but I have seen a disparity between who gets and who don't. Is it by zip codes? It looks like it."

Ms. Washington, whose grandson at Eastern Wayne Middle School has been the target of bullies, said she has been disappointed by reaction from administrators and the school board.

"Five different times he has been hurt in school with other students," she said, explaining that the youth only weighs 68 pounds, is underweight, and on medication due to ADHD.

"It needs to stop before somebody gets broken bones or worse," she said. "We took him to the doctor -- no broken bones, but he was very sore all over."

Kristin Neiman raised the issue of disbursement of resources. The Tommy's Road Elementary School parent said she had learned the school had no soap or paper towels, and that copy paper was in short supply so teachers were unable to print out assignments for students.

She said she would provide paper, even writing out assignments by hand if need be, and that likely other parents would pitch in if they could.

She was also concerned about the overcrowding in classrooms, particularly since Tommy's Road is one of the newer schools in the district. Mrs. Neiman said she recalled moving to that area when the school was being built, and being excited about the prospect of a new middle and high school soon after.

It never happened.

"The school board does not plan ahead," she said. "There's no middle or high school with it."

Arnold Flowers, candidate for Board of Education, said he came out to hear all sides of the issue, with hopes that Wayne County will not wind up in any sort of lawsuit the way neighboring Duplin County has.

"I'm trying to figure out where to plant my feet," he said.

The former commissioner said one thing he learned from that experience was to educate himself on all sides of any issue.

"By being a private citizen you're not privileged to have all the facts," he said. "While I was on the board of commissioners, I changed my mind a lot when I had all the facts.

"I don't have all the facts (here). We had many meetings with the Board of Education, the commissioners would ask, 'Why don't you fill up GHS? You have got empty classrooms. You want us to give you money to build other schools?'"

The city schools, and Goldsboro High School, were not always predominantly black, Flowers said.

"It's become black by degrees, year after year after year," he said. "There was a lot of white people that wanted to send their children to Goldsboro, but they didn't want to be the only one. Now they have moved their kids somewhere else, both black and white."