Politics & Government

A Wake leader’s email promoting Black Lives Matter at School Week draws questions

Parents told the Wake County school board at February 2018 meeting that Black Lives Matter signs belong on school campuses.
Parents told the Wake County school board at February 2018 meeting that Black Lives Matter signs belong on school campuses. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Lormand

A Cary middle school administrator’s email promoting National Black Lives Matter At School Week is drawing questions from conservatives. But Wake County school officials say it’s not an official endorsement of the movement by the school system.

Charlesa Peoples, an assistant principal at West Cary Middle School, sent an email message to staff this week reminding them that Feb. 4 marks the nationwide start of Black Lives Matter At School Week of Action. Peoples encouraged staff to look at The Teaching Tolerance website developed by the Southern Poverty Law Center to help them “challenge structural and systemstic racism while centering the lives of black students inside and outside of the classroom.”

“Yes, yes, I know .. All Lives Matter, but the week of February 4th is focused specifically on our black students ok?” Peoples says in the email. “And if we don’t see why this is important, we are part of the problem.”

A.P. Dillon, a Wake County parent and local conservative blogger who first tweeted about the issue Thursday, said she was frustrated that West Cary would be promoting Black Lives Matter.

“At a time when students in public district schools across the state are struggling to be proficient in reading and math, we have staff planning politically tied social justice events that have nothing to do with advancing academics,” Dillon said in a message Friday.

But Lisa Luten, a Wake schools spokeswoman, said neither the school district nor West Cary Middle is planning any Black Lives Matter At School events.

“The email was intended to make faculty aware of the national event so that if students individually participated, teachers would have the information necessary to support their students,” Luten said. “The materials linked in the email were provided as an ‘FYI’ and were not intended to be prescriptive or compulsory.”’

Peoples did not immediately return a request for comment Friday.

Dillon said she was skeptical of the district’s denials, especially because she said West Cary’s staff was recently asked to fill out a sheet asking them questions about “white privilege” and bias.

The Black Lives Matter movement emerged after the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager, in Florida.

Black Lives Matter at School was started in 2016 in Seattle and has since grown to be a nationwide effort involving thousands of educators during the first week of February in Black History Month. Event organizer say the week is a “national uprising to affirm the lives of Black students.”

Teachers are encouraged to reach out to social justice activists and teach lessons built around concepts such as restorative justice, globalism, being “unapologetically black” and affirming people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

For instance, suggested middle school topics include police brutality; racial segregation and environmental racism; rethinking sexism, gender and sexuality; and teaching social justice through math.

A representative from the group said it is not aware of any North Carolina schools or teachers who are participating.

Next week’s activities come after West Cary Middle recently hosted the Edcamp Equity event organized by the Edcamp Foundation. Educators from around the district came to West Cary Middle last Saturday to talk about educational equity. (An earlier version of this article incorrectly listed who organized the Edcamp Equity event.)

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.