Building on a week of public outcry over racial inequality in the public school system, the NAACP Charleston branch kicked off a campaign to file federal civil rights complaints against the Charleston County School District on Thursday.
“Things that have been quiet for a long time have come to a head,” said the Rev. Joseph Darby, branch vice president, in a monthly meeting at Morris Brown AME Church. Parents and community members expressed concern over the closures of majority-black schools, delays in renovating Stoney Field for the Burke High football team, an ongoing achievement gap between minority students and their white counterparts, and possible attempts to privatize public schools.
Addressing about 50 people in the church fellowship hall, local education advocate Jon Butzon suggested filing complaints with the U.S. Department of Education and the Office for Civil Rights about issues including racial disparities in school disciplinary actions and performance on Advanced Placement tests. According to school district data, black students are six times more likely to be suspended than their white counterparts.
“What if the Office of Civil Rights didn’t get one complaint, they got 1,000 complaints?” said Butzon, former director of the now-defunct Charleston Education Network, which dissolved in 2013. NAACP leaders at the meeting encouraged those present to start a mass complaint-filing campaign.
Butzon said he hopes the complaint-filing campaign leads to a federal investigation of what he called discriminatory practices in the district.
It has been a busy week in education advocacy circles. The Charleston County School Board’s three black members walked out of a meeting Monday in protest, saying the needs of black students were not being met. The board members are calling for the replacement of board chair Cindy Bohn Coats, the hiring of a chief diversity officer and the reversal of a decision to close Lincoln Middle-High School.
Tuesday night, the advocacy group Quality Education Project hosted an information clinic encouraging community members to run for the five contested school board seats in November.
On Wednesday afternoon, NAACP leaders held a press conference outside Charleston Charter School for Math and Science saying that the school had declined to renew three teachers’ contracts after those teachers were “improperly and arbitrarily” evaluated. The school issued a statement that said none of the original three complainants had filed grievances through the process available to them.
There was some difference of opinion in the room Thursday night on the matter of alternative school models. Butzon said the district ought to be open to charter schools and other “alternative school operators.” NAACP Branch President Dot Scott, on the other hand, said she is generally wary of charter schools but stands by the district’s decision to enter a unique partnership with the private group Meeting Street Schools, which has shown marked improvement in student test scores at North Charleston’s Meeting Street Academy @Brentwood. Charleston County School District Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait has hailed the school as a model for classroom innovations that the rest of the district could adopt and urged the board to enter a similar partnership at Burns Elementary.
Source: Post and Courier | Paul Bowers