Politics & Government

Durham mother’s story of son’s suspension went viral. Now, she’s addressing school board.

Durham mother whose Facebook post about attending in-school suspension with son gained thousands of reactions shares her story with school board

The Rev. Fatimah Salleh said that she initially waited nine months before telling about the in-school suspension her son had at Durham School of the Arts. She said she hoped that ISS at the school had changed.
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The Rev. Fatimah Salleh said that she initially waited nine months before telling about the in-school suspension her son had at Durham School of the Arts. She said she hoped that ISS at the school had changed.

The Durham mother whose Facebook post about attending in-school suspension with her son gained thousands of reactions shared her story at the Durham Board of Education meeting Thursday.

The Rev. Fatimah Salleh, who identified herself as the “mother of four brown and black children at three different Durham Public Schools,” said that she initially waited nine months before telling about the in-school suspension her son had at Durham School of the Arts. She said she hoped that ISS at the school had changed.

But then a second son was placed in ISS and told her about his experiences, Salleh said.

“I’m going to ask you to be accountable and hold our schools accountable to making sure that that room is not filled with disproportionate black, brown bodies,” Salleh told the school board.

She said her concerns came from affection for DPS and a desire to see the schools do better.

“I love this school district. I love it. My kids are happy, but you have an underbelly that we’re not addressing,” Salleh said.

She challenged board members to involve themselves in the schools more directly.

“Visit your schools,” she said. “Sit in places nobody wants to sit.”

Salleh’s son, Micah Sorensen, shared his experiences with suspension. He also talked about a friend who he called “one of the smartest people” he knew. The friend was given a week of ISS and ended up dropping out of school because he was so behind, Sorensen said.

“Before anyone else drops out due to being sent to ISS, I hope there could be a change,” hesaid.

A crowd outside the school board’s meeting room watched the comments over a monitor Thursday night and applauded Salleh as she spoke. When she emerged into the hallway, people lined up to hug her and thank her for sharing.

Several parents, students and former board members also told stories of in-school suspensions and expressed disappointment with inequity and discrimination in disciplinary procedures across the school system.

David Hawks, the principal of DSA, addressed the board after others spoke, “to provide clarity,” he said.

“As great as we are as a school, we are not perfect. And we strive to become better each day,” Hawks said. “One area we acknowledge in which we must do better is fully developing our restorative justice center, which is a new concept this year.”

He affirmed that DSA believes in restorative practices and is dedicated to creating a “focused learning environment built upon strong relationships and high expectations of success for all our students.”

Board Superintendent Pascal Mubenga acknowledged parents’ concern over suspensions and a video that surfaced of a bullying incident on a Durham school bus last week.

“Regarding in-school suspension, many of you in this room have helped our schools improve and make more equitable our student code of conduct. We have been transforming our schools’ approach to discipline. We believe in restorative justice and turning our in-school suspension program into restorative practice centers,” Mubenga said.

He condemned the bus bullying incident and said that action will be taken against anyone involved in instances of bullying.

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Shelbi Polk reports on K-12 education in Durham and Orange Counties for the News & Observer. She attended Texas A&M University and followed the crowds to Raleigh in 2018.
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