A local minister is calling on Durham Public Schools to require black history courses.
Minister Paul Scott asked the school board Thursday night to offer black history in all middle schools and require it for graduation.
Durham Public Schools currently offers an elective called “African-American Studies.”
According to Scott, black history has historically been downplayed or ignored, what he called “literary lynching.” He believes failing to teach black history contributes to young people’s criminal activity and educational achievement gaps.
“This benign neglect must stop,” Scott said. “We have to tell our young people why our black lives matter.”
Cheryl Smith, Anita Keith-Foust, and former school board member and city councilwoman Jackie Wagstaff spoke in support of Scott’s proposal.
Their comments were not on the agenda Thursday, so the board did not discuss them during the meeting.
School board Vice Chairman Mike Lee said Friday, however, that he agrees with the need to highlight the contributions of black leaders and inventors to U.S. history in Durham schools. A better understanding of black history and culture would improve student outcomes both inside and outside the classroom, he said.
Still, he questioned the feasibility of enacting Scott’s proposal on a local basis given state credit and curriculum requirements. “If it doesn’t get changed at the state level it would be very difficult for us to move it forward,” he said.
Lee also emphasized the importance of all students learning black history.
“We understand where white ancestors come from. We understand Europe,” he said. “This would help everyone understand everyone’s contributions to this great country. It could help eradicate some of the negative feelings on both sides.”
“What we find now is black history is really focused on in February, and that’s fine, but what (Scott is) saying is it shouldn’t just be a small part of American history,” Lee said.
In other business
Board members discussed the new District Improvement Plan for 2015-17.
The three-part plan focuses on academic achievement, operational efficiency and improving communication.
The academic strategies include benchmarks such as third-grade reading proficiency, eighth-grade math and reading proficiency, and the four-year graduation rate.
The academic achievement section of the plan also lists “enter kindergarten ready to learn” among its goals. The school board, City Council, and Board of County Commissioners have come together to launch a task force on universal pre-K in Durham.
School board Vice chairman Mike Lee is an enthusiastic proponent of universal pre-K.
“It’s not an overnight fix to what we’re dealing with, but it is a foundational fix that could change the entire trajectory of DPS,” he said.