Forsyth schools deal with racial discrimination reports

OLIVIA CHIPI

Forsyth County schools are top of the ranks for racial discrimination, according to recent reports by the Youth Justice Project.

“A lot of the data we see is not broken down by different groups of students… unless we’re looking at that disproportionality, we’re not really measuring how our schools are educating students,” Peggy Nicholson, the director of the Youth Justice Project, said in an interview for NC Policy Watch in early March.

The Youth Justice Project of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice releases annual report cards on racial equity of the schools in each North Carolina county and one report of the state. According to an article by Michael Bragg of the Winston-Salem Journal, this is the third year the nonprofit organization has released these reports.

“They are not meant as an attack on the critically important public institutions that serve our youth, but rather, as a call to action,” Nicholson said in the Winston-Salem Journal article.

According to the 2019 Racial Equity Report Card for Forsyth County Schools, black students were 6.3 times more likely than white students to receive short-term suspension. In the state, however, black students were only 4.3 times more likely.

This report, released in early January, came shortly after the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights received a federal complaint of racial discrimination at Ashley Academy.

In another article by Bragg of the Winston-Salem Journal, the complaint was filed by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice in August of 2018, after school board officials failed to respond to air-quality concerns at the elementary school. The Office of Civil Rights’ ongoing investigation will determine whether the Forsyth County school board was discriminatory.  

“We follow this type of data closely and have worked and will continue to work to make closing these gaps a priority,” Brent Campbell said in the Winston-Salem Journal article about the report cards.

Campbell, a spokesperson for Forsyth County schools, could not make a statement regarding the investigation, adding that the school board “will fully cooperate with the OCR.”

The issues of growth and racial discrimination in North Carolina schools are not uncommon, however.

This March, Halifax County approved Hobgood Academy, a former private school, to become a publicly funded charter school. This continues the historical tradition of racial segregation of education in the county, according to an article by the Raleigh News & Observer.

Though the Racial Equity Report Card of Orange County fares better than that of Forsyth County, the district voted to adopt a new racial equity plan this year and recently approved a chief equity officer position in late February.

For another district, however, solutions to challenges of racial inequity and declining growth came via state oversight.

“This is a new school beginning and we’re going to move forward,” said Cindy Chavis in an article by NC Policy Watch.

Chavis is the new counselor at Southside Ashpole Elementary in Robeson County. Like Forsyth, Robeson County schools have received poor grades for their declining growth and poor academic success, which is linked to racial disparity.

According to NC Policy Watch’s article, Southside Ashpole Elementary School is the first North Carolina school run by the state’s Innovative School District (NCISD). NCISD was created to improve academic performance in low performing schools via state takeover.

Several Forsyth County schools were also considered for this state takeover, including Ashley Academy and Forest Park Elementary. Though Ashley Academy was removed from the list due to improvements in grade performance, the state program is still considering schools to takeover. NCISD needs to have five schools by 2021 according to state law.

Robeson County encompasses a population of approximately 133,000 people. While Forsyth County is significantly larger, the school board must still determine whether “the NCISD is the best course of action.”

The Forsyth County school district has implemented programs, like Inspire 340, that work to increase student success and meet or exceed growth expectations through additional resources. They are also working with outside organizations, like Forsyth Promise, and created a multi-tiered system, called Inspire, to better support schools.

Nicholson of the Youth Justice Program is hopeful of improvements to racial equity and community concerns. In Bragg’s Winston-Salem Journal article, she said that the data on disparity is “a tough pill to swallow”. It can, however, serve as a springboard for action from “parents, advocates, policymakers” and board members who were recently elected last fall.

“[For board members] This is an opportunity to show their commitment to equity.”

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