Neighbors pack school board meeting to voice frustrations about ‘Monopoly-like’ slavery game

Published: Apr. 3, 2019 at 6:15 AM EDT
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WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Parents, educators and civil rights leaders packed the New Hanover County School Board meeting Tuesday night to share their frustrations over a controversial game used to teach slavery.

It happened at Codington Elementary, and the school system issued an apology and implemented implicit bias training. In the game called "Escaping Slavery, teachers gave students a Freedom Punch Card that read, “If your group runs out into trouble four times, you will be severely punished and sent back to the plantation to work as a slave.”

More than 20 people signed up to speak during the call to the audience portion of the meeting. Many said they’re happy the school did respond, but said it’s not enough to just implement training. They need to see changes in schools.

“We know that the majority of the people want to do what’s right and we’re glad that this board came out so aggressively," Pastor Robert Campbell of New Beginning Christian Church said.

“Now they talked about it and we hope that they’ll be about it. It’s not enough just to implement. They have to follow through and I believe they will,” he said.

Some who spoke called for cultural competency training on a yearly basis. Others said they want more African-American educators in the classrooms.

Florence Warren spoke on behalf of the Williston High School alumni. She told the board they want school leaders to be proactive about educating employees to be more aware when making decisions.

“We didn’t realize slavery was a game,” she said.

Warren warned insensitive decisions hurt students’ self-esteem and self-worth. She wants a diverse group of people from the county to be in charge of picking who does trainings for the school system.

Pastor Campbell and his congregation wore black shirts to stand in solidarity with African-American students. He said he doesn’t think the teacher in this case was purposely trying to hurt anyone, but said that’s not the issue.

“It doesn’t matter that it wasn’t intentional because to a certain degree, if I hit you, you’re still going to feel the pain and sometimes that’s what is happening," he said.

“We don’t think that teacher did anything malicious, not in my mind, racist, not intentionally, but I think the system has to provide the training so they don’t trip over their implicit biases,” Campbell said.

Tyler Shumate teaches fifth grade at Alderman Elementary School. He thinks all school employees need to go through implicit bias training.

“An important part of their [students’] education and our training as teachers should be teach implicit bias and cultural competency and what they are and to make sure students have a more successful future," he said.

Campbell said he thinks so many people showed up to Tuesday’s meeting because it was finally time for change.

“It is a host of terrible acts that have been going unnoticed and unidentified. This was noticed and identified and it was a good place to say it’s time for change," Campbell said.

As for the school board’s response Tuesday night, all principals and teachers will go through implicit bias training. Training for principals starts in June. School leaders said they’re working on a way to build in training in a sustainable way because they said a few hours of training isn’t enough.

School leaders are also working to start cultural competency training, and book studies for principals. One book they’re reviewing for principals to read and bring back to their schools is called “Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain.” Another is called “Despite the Best Intentions: How Racial Inequality Thrives in Good Schools.”

School board members said they want to be as transparent as possible with the public about the steps they’re taking. The equity committee will have its own web page with updates on anything the committee does.

The school system’s equity committee that is laying a lot of groundwork for certain trainings has existed for about a year, according to school board chair Lisa Estep. The board now wants that committee to be a board level committee that would allow for monthly committee reports and allow for more accountability, she said. It would also add one or two board members to the committee. In order to do this, it has to be approved by the policy committee.

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