09/13/11 — NAACP: Schools are not equal

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NAACP: Schools are not equal

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 13, 2011 1:46 PM

Eight members from the local NAACP addressed the school board Monday night, claiming "continuing disparity" and the need to make "sweeping changes" to district schools.

The 20-minute presentation was to be part of an addendum to the 2009 Title IV complaint brought against Wayne County Public Schools, NAACP officials said, to be forwarded to the state's Office of Civil Rights along with a petition signed by 700 community members and parents.

"We have signed up here to speak for our children," said Sylvia Barnes, president of the local NAACP chapter, adding that the "latest data" continues to show disparity.

Among the group's goals, she explained, was to encourage the district to "stop resegregation and start promoting equity," while focusing on math, science, reading and history in the schools and to address disparities in the dropout, graduation and suspension rates.

Jamela Lrapo, the mother of seven students in the county schools, said data in the form of the district report cards reflects poor progress made at several schools in the past decade.

"The Wayne County school board must make sweeping changes to reverse the school system's current direction," she said. "The board must show a commitment to provide every school with a challenging curriculum ... providing every school with educational enrichment opportunities."

Bobby Jones suggested a "mediocre curriculum" lowers standards in the schools, and rattled off a list of Advanced Placement, or AP, classes offered at one unspecified high school, including calculus, English literature, U.S. history, biology, statistics, environmental science, art history and music theory. At "School B," he said, only AP calculus is offered.

"Which would you want your child or grandchild to attend?" he asked the board.

Larnell Reece also provided a comparison chart, illustrating opportunities of student resources at two unnamed high schools. One, he said, offered such options as engineering camps at N.C. State University, Governor's Page program, a summer institute for future business leaders and a forensic science camp, while the other school's options included Fordham House, Salvation Army thrift shop, and Wayne County Health Department or Social Services.

The issue of highly qualified teachers was brought up by David Felton, while Keith Copeland addressed the need for fair and appropriate disciplinary treatment, zoning in on short-term suspension rates.

Citing, again, unspecified schools, Copeland said that one high school had a 15 percent short-term suspension rate while "School B" had a rate of 190 percent.

"This just does not add up," he said. "I don't believe that there's anybody in this room who believes in discipline any more than I do. But this here is not discipline because if it were, we wouldn't be seeing this kind of disparity.

"If you have a consequence, it should work. If you have a 190 percent suspension rate, that tells me that something is not working."

Dr. Frankie Lewis, communications chair for the NAACP, asked the school board to ensure every school utilize all of its structural resources, specifically targeting seating capacities.

Thelma Smith, school board chairwoman, requested a copy of the group's remarks and data.

Several board members also responded to the presentation during board comments.

"I don't know about the data that they have shared with us but if the data is correct, there's some concerns out there and we as a board need to look at these issues and make sure that we're doing everything we can to (provide) a quality education in Wayne County," board member Len Henderson said.

Board member Arnold Flowers said he appreciated the presentation and the manner in which it was presented.

"I have no way of knowing the numbers, the accuracy of them and I'm sure there are many variances and all that," he said, noting that particularly in the area of suspensions, several issues were ones Henderson had himself raised since joining the board last year. "What would have been helpful to me would have been if the NAACP would have told me which schools they were talking about ... then we could actually look at the schools ourselves."

As for seating capacity, Flowers said there had been conversations about that over the years and, if true, would make it hard to justify building new classrooms if there are empty ones in the county. He asked the superintendent to provide information to that end, saying he wanted to "get all the facts."

Mrs. Smith, speaking directly to Ms. Barnes, who remained at the meeting after the contingent had departed, thanked her for the way the group presented its information. She said the board would discuss it further and contact the NAACP in the near future.

"Certainly I appreciate any information," added Dr. Steven Taylor, superintendent, who said his aspiration is to provide accurate information, which he feels his leadership team has done throughout.

"The Office of Civil Rights has been very good to work with and we have provided everything they have asked for," he said. "Anyone can file a complaint. That doesn't make it correct."

At this point, Taylor said, the OCR has given no indication the district is in question. Representatives visited the district back in April and his perception was that the matter should have been resolved by this point.

In the meantime, he noted, the district would comply with any requests for information, with the ultimate goal of providing a quality education to all children.

"But if they (the OCR) come back and say we need to change some policies, we will do that," he said. "We want to be in compliance with all regulations and laws."