Wake County Schools Grapple With the Aftermath of Racial Incidents | News

Wake County Schools Grapple With the Aftermath of Racial Incidents

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Keith Sutton, a board member of the Wake County Public Schools System, emphasizes the explosive nature of recent racial incidents in the system. - THOMAS GOLDSMITH
  • Thomas Goldsmith
  • Keith Sutton, a board member of the Wake County Public Schools System, emphasizes the explosive nature of recent racial incidents in the system.

Racially charged incidents in Wake County Public Schools
carry the potential explosiveness of a bomb, and the system must be better prepared to deal with them, Board of Education members said at their Tuesday work session.

As the system moves forward with training and structural changes, staff and administrators should realize that recent developments illustrate a deeper, more troubling level of racial division, said chairwoman Monika Johnson-Hostler. Like the parents who called in tears after seeing the racist video made by students at Leesville Road Middle, Johnson-Hostler said she was shocked by the nature of the animus seen in recent months.

“We are definitely seeing a different manifestation than what we’ve seen before,” Hostler-Johnson later told the INDY.

At its work session, the board heard Rodney Trice, assistant superintendent for equity affairs in Wake schools since July 2014, project a series of new steps for the system. The plan emerged following incidents at Wake Forest High School and Leesville Road Middle School, both involving the use of racial epithets by students.

Board member Keith Sutton and Hostler-Johnson spoke in favor of Trice’s suggestion that the system’s Office of Equity Affairs be expanded and receive increased funding in the budget year, which begins July 1. Trice also proposed a “courageous conversations about race”; a study series for system leaders; equity conferences and workshops; and a study of race-based disproportionality across Wake schools.

“Our principals' job is to maintain a safe learning environment,” Sutton said. “We take the protection of that environment very seriously, just as we would if there were a physical threat, a bomb, or whatever.”

Racial insensitivity presents the same sort of threat as physical violence, he said.

“It won’t be easy,” Hostler-Johnson said of the work of improving race relations.

During public comments before Tuesday evening’s regular meeting, activist Geraldine Alshamy, of NC Community Solutions, called for the formation of a community-parent council to monitor Wake schools’ treatment of students from marginalized groups.

“This is a system that protects, just like the police department,” Alshamy told board members. “There’s a perception that principals are doing the right thing, but that is not true. You really want us to believe that you are serious. But not to collaborate with the folks that are actually experiencing this, to not add money to the equity department … would speak very loudly.”

The system should also make use of existing staff and processes in dealing with racial issues, Trice said. These could include area meetings, department meetings, board retreats, student government discussions, teams, clubs, and community partners.

In addition, the system could call on Wake families to “join the school system in having a conversation about race using crosscultural activities and discussion prompts developed by the Office of Equity Affairs,” Trice said.

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