Wake County schools call for ‘courageous conversation about race’

Wake County school leaders say school employees need more training about racial equity as a way to respond to recent race-related incidents in schools that have gone viral on social media.

School administrators laid out a plan Tuesday that includes more racial equity training, establishment of school-based equity teams and expansion of initiatives that help African-American and Latino students.

School leaders also said that students, parents and the rest of the community need to be part of what’s being billed as a “courageous conversation about race.”

“We’re the 15th largest school system in the nation,” said school board member Jim Martin. “If we can’t lead on this we’re in trouble.”

Wake was rocked by a pair of racially charged videos in March involving students at Wake Forest High School and Leesville Road Middle School.

Early this month, a video was posted showing a Wake Forest High student pulling a white classmate to the floor twice on March 2, including once after being called a “black piece of (expletive).” The student, who was suspended for five days, has said his actions were triggered by months of racial harassment and a death threat from the white student that were not dealt with by the school.

Martin, chairman of the board’s policy committee, said Wake needs to re-examine how it treats more harshly a student who physically responds to racial harassment than the student who made the verbal comments.

Two weeks ago, a video was posted showing three Leesville Road Middle students making derogatory remarks about different racial and ethnic groups and chanting “KKK, KKK.” School officials have said the students “received appropriate disciplinary action.”

Calla Wright, head of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens for African American Children, told the school board that the videos “should be an embarrassment to the Wake County system.”

School board member Keith Sutton said Wake Forest High and Leesville Middle are in “crisis mode.”

“We have to do more to hear the pain, the hurt, the frustration that many members of our community feel,” Sutton said. “We must do more to respond to the needs of our school community. We must do more to act to ensure a safe, diverse and inclusive learning environment.”

In response to the incidents, all of Wake’s principals held a closed-door discussion Thursday on racial issues in North Carolina’s largest school system.

“Our principals and teachers welcomed a conversation about equity and race,” said Rodney Trice, assistant superintendent for equity affairs. “It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that it’s a conversation whose time has come.”

In addition to the videos, activists have complained about how African-American students in Wake make up 24 percent of the district’s student enrollment but 63 percent of the suspensions.

Administrators laid out different approaches to deal with the issues raised in the videos, including:

▪ Expand the Office of Equity Affairs;

▪ Create school-based equity teams, or E-Teams, at every school;

▪ Expand programs such as the Helping Hands mentoring program and the African American & Latino Male Summit;

▪ Offer more equity mini-courses, equity conferences and workshops

“Schools that have gone through racial equity training have a leg up on dealing with issues,” Trice said.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

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