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Press conference to call for the end of suspensions for NHCS’s youngest students

Published: Jul. 12, 2021 at 11:47 PM EDT
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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - A press conference calling for the end of out-of-school suspensions for students ages four to seven will take place prior to Tuesday evening’s New Hanover County Board of Education meeting.

The group Love Our Children organized the press conference, and is on a mission to end out-of-school suspensions for the county’s youngest learners, except if they bring guns or drugs to school, or commit a violent assault.

“Every time we meet with individuals or with different groups around the community — they’re all shocked,” said Peter Rawitsch with Love Our Children. “They say, ‘I can’t believe we’re suspending 4, 5, 6 and 7 year olds.’”

Rawitsch will be one of three speakers at the press conference. He will be joined by Veronica McLaurin-Brown and Loretta Stackhouse.

McLaurin-Brown worked in the school system for 34 years and did everything from Pre-K to central office. She says what the group is asking for has been done.

“What I’m asking for has been done and is being done in this county today, but it needs to be done for every single student, so that’s why we need a discipline policy. We need to change the paradigm in our county,” McLaurin-Brown said. “A paradigm to, ‘let’s keep all our students in school rather than throw them out of school, especially our 4, 5, 6 and 7-year-old children.’”

In the 2018 to 2019 school year, the most recent year not interrupted by COVID-19 or a hurricane, over 1,000 elementary school students were suspended, according to Love Our Children. Of that, 40% were kindergarten, first and second graders.

The data also show that Black students are disproportionately suspended from school.

“18% of our student population in elementary is African American and 61% of the children suspended were African American — and that is a huge gap,” McLaurin-Brown said.

Love Our Children is holding the press conference not only to educate the public of this issue, but also to once again bring it to the attention of the board of education before the school year starts.

“There’s a sense of urgency here,” Rawitsch said. “The new school year will be starting very soon and we want this new policy to be in place before the children return to school.”

While it’s not on the official agenda for tomorrow’s board of education meeting, Love Our Children is hopeful a motion could be made to include this issue on the agenda.

There could be a big turnout at Tuesday’s board of education meeting, as there are multiple issues on the agenda that are expected to draw large crowds. Love Our Children hopes to educate everyone in attendance.

“We’re expecting a huge turnout for all the issues that people are concerned with about the school system and every one of those individuals is someone we’re going to be talking to to join our advocacy,” McLaurin-Brown said. “I think every person can support an advocacy that says keep 4, 5, 6 and 7-year-old children — I would even call them babies — in school.”

Sonya Patrick with the Wilmington chapter of Black Lives Matter issued a statement in support of the press conference.

“Black Lives Matter Wilmington, NC chapter believes that ending school suspension will aid in ending racial disparities in the educational system. Statistics prove that students that are suspended mostly likely will be victims of school to prison pipeline,” the statement reads. In continues on to say, “BLM cannot rest until all young black students are no longer victims of racial disparities in an educational school system. Our school system is supported by tax dollars of all races not just European Americans and should reflect an equitable policy. BLM believes ending school suspension is a good start.”

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