WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - One group traveling the state is says North Carolina’s schools are segregated and it needs to stop. They blame charter schools as one of the reasons for the segregation.
The North Carolina Council of Churches hosted a town hall with area activists Tuesday night to talk about the topic, focusing on New Hanover County schools. Leaders with the council said as charter schools grow in popularity, more money is taken from public schools and poured into those charter schools. If a student leaves a public school for a charter school, the money allotted to that student goes with him or her to the charter school.
They said students at charter schools are usually upper class and white, furthering the racial divide. Tuesday night’s town hall was called “Bridging the Silence: A Forum about Race, Reconciliation and Redemption.”
“Racism factors into that whole conversation, because the charter schools are generally, not always, but often, populated by affluent white parents who have the means to provide transportation and provide lunch. Charter schools are not required to provide that," Allison Mahaley, chair of the education committee for the Council, said.
“We think that by having the conversation, it actually liberates people to understand that there are other people who have the same concerns as they do. Lots of people are worried about public schools,” she said.
Community members spoke about race in the school system. Clyde Edgerton spoke about a case at a kindergarten Spanish immersion enrollment program at Forest Hills Elementary School. A report by the Southern Coalition for Equal Protections Under the Law says there was no African-American student representation among the program’s 40 spots. Parents filed complaints, but the report said those complaints were never heard by the school board.
Reverend Dante Murphy with the Coalition also spoke and said “there has been a systemic history of racism” in New Hanover County schools.
The conversation quickly turned to talks about the school board’s proposal to close Williston Middle School and change it into a specialty high school. A Williston teacher said she fears the specialty school would further divide the area and schools.
“You cannot talk about the history of Williston without recognizing the history of racial politics in Wilmington. It’s not possible to extricate Williston from that conversation,” teacher Laura Butler said.
“We are still Williston, although we are a different reincarnation,” Butler said.
Butler stood up and voiced this concern, and others about closing Williston Middle, to the two school board members in attendance, Judy Justice and Nelson Beaulieu. Beaulieu told those in attendance to bring any concerns about race or any other issues to him and the other school board members, and they’ll do their best to work on those issues.
A spokesperson with the school system said the school system never got an invitation to the meeting. Some school board members did hear about it, though, and attended.
According to Allison Mahaley with the Council, the group is traveling around the state facilitating conversations about segregation in the school system. The Southern Coalition for Equal Protections Under the Law and Progress North Carolina partnered with the Council to host the event.
“There’s too much silence around the issue,” said Mahaley.
Mahaley urged those in attendance to host listening sessions about race in schools, and stand up for public schools.