Education

Principals will be schooled on equity and diversity after racial incidents

Vandals hung a teddy bear from a noose at Wakefield High School on Tuesday and damaged the football stadium and baseball field in what principal Malik Bazzell called a Òdeeply offensiveÓ act. Before the bear was removed, many students and staff saw it and a photo was circulating on social media.
Vandals hung a teddy bear from a noose at Wakefield High School on Tuesday and damaged the football stadium and baseball field in what principal Malik Bazzell called a Òdeeply offensiveÓ act. Before the bear was removed, many students and staff saw it and a photo was circulating on social media.

Wake County principals are going to school next week in an effort to help deal with racial issues that have plagued North Carolina’s largest school system.

All 180 Wake principals will attend a two-day “Beyond Diversity” seminar next week led by Rodney Trice, assistant superintendent for equity affairs. Trice told school board members Monday that the seminar is part of a series of initiatives designed to improve awareness of different cultures.

Trice said he wants principals to come out of the seminar with strategies they can use to improve equity in areas such as student achievement and discipline.

“It won’t solve all the issues we have, but it will go a long way toward proving a common language,” Trice said.

Trice has been put in the spotlight in recent months as Wake has dealt with a string of racially charged incidents:

▪ In March, a Wake Forest High School teacher was suspended without pay for five days for not doing enough to stop the racial harassment of a black student that led to the student throwing a white classmate to the floor. The confrontation was posted on social media.

▪ Also in March, three Leesville Road Middle School students were disciplined after they posted a video making derogatory remarks about different racial and ethnic groups and chanting “KKK, KKK.”

▪ An Apex Friendship High School student was disciplined for an April Snapchat post that compared African-American members of the school’s step team with freed slaves.

▪ An Apex Middle School teacher has been suspended with pay since May while the district investigates a video posted on Snapchat showing the educator comparing a black student to a slave.

▪ Four Wakefield High School students face disciplinary action for hanging a teddy bear dressed as Santa Claus from a noose from the school roof on May 30 along with a sign saying “Make Wakefield Tripp Again #smartlunch.” The sign referenced some students’ desire for the former white principal to return to replace the black principal who is now in charge.

After the initial spate of incidents, school administrators presented a plan on March 21 to the school board calling for the community to have a “courageous conversation about race.”

Trice said Monday that he doesn’t think there is an increase in racially charged incidents in Wake schools, but that the prevalence of social media is making people more aware of them.

He said schools can be torn apart by a single controversial tweet.

Trice told school board members his office is still working on helping schools form equity teams. He said these school-based teams can provide a rapid response when incidents occur.

“We need people on the ground who are well-versed about culture, diversity and implicit bias to be able to respond immediately,” Trice said.

School board member Keith Sutton said many in the community think the solution is to provide diversity training to all 12,000 Wake teachers. Trice said his office doesn’t have the manpower to do that, but it’s something that can be done by the new school-based equity teams.

In the meantime, Trice said his office is developing mini-courses on equity issues that teachers can be trained on. Trice will also speak with principals and central office administrators at the district’s summer leadership conference in August.

“This is important work that you’re doing,” school board member Jim Martin told Trice.

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

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