The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday March 28th

Community discusses racial issues in the school system

Chapel Hill High School is a part of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, one of the top-ranked school districts in the state.
Buy Photos Chapel Hill High School is a part of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, one of the top-ranked school districts in the state.

Parents, students, teachers and leaders of the school district gathered Saturday afternoon to share their experiences and grievances regarding racial disparities in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system.

The Community Assembly on Racial Equity in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools was held by The Campaign for Racial Equity in Our Schools. 

Wanda Hunter, a co-organizer of the event, said that the campaign started in 2015 by gathering data on racial inequities and interviewing parents, teachers and administrators in order to compile a comprehensive report.

According to the report, African-American students are suspended eight times more than white students and are three times more likely to be sent to the office. 

“The School Board voted not to hear our report, so we did a press conference and at the press conference we shared our findings with the public,” Hunter said.

Alissa Ellis, another co-organizer of the event, said she was particularly concerned about disparities that are difficult to quantify, such as different tones and coded language used by teachers toward white students compared to students of color.

She stressed how important it is to understand new, potentially uncomfortable perspectives and criticized victim-blaming and those who deny racism exists.

“We’re here to change the narrative, we’re here to change racial equity at the system level,” Ellis said. “A lot of people call me idealistic, but I don’t know how you can live in this world and not be idealistic because that’s how the change and hope happens.”

Michael Jones, a chorus teacher at Culbreth Middle School, said he attended the event to encourage public discourse about discrimination in education.  

“It means a chance for people to hear the concerns of the community,” Jones said. “All students should be successful and no students should be neglected of that success.”

Hunter said the assembly, which was co-sponsored by El Centro Hispano, Orange Organizing Against Racism and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, helps the campaign by allowing the public to give feedback on the organization’s goals and progress.

The assembly divided the audience into groups of students, parents and faculty. Hunter said that this separation was done for the first time to help effectively hear unique concerns that others may not have perceived in their own experiences.

Parents of color expressed concern about curricula and environments that encourage students to self-label, which causes performance to suffer when they internalize pervasive stereotypes. Parents also were dissatisfied with the scheduling of parent-teacher conferences and PTA meetings, which can be inaccessible for those busy with work.

When parents of color try to take their concerns to faculty, they said that they are often seen as “angry” and may have requests ignored, while white parents are viewed more positively from the outset.

Teachers pointed out the lack of diversity in language within their own ranks, specifically regarding a growing Asian-American population in Chapel Hill-Carrboro.

Mandy Hitchcock, a co-organizer of the event, said she appreciates that Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools are some of North Carolina’s best, but she became involved with the campaign because she wanted that success to be shared among all students regardless of their race or background.

“I think that the campaign has had a lot of influence on progress the district has made on equity,” Hitchcock said. “We’re partially responsible for the fact that we now have a board that is equity-focused, and they elected a superintendent who is equity-focused.”

Hitchcock said that the school system’s general success has made the campaign’s work tougher. She said that the campaign particularly faces challenges in marshaling support from people for whom the education system is already working.

“Equity work is hard, and it’s especially hard in a district that prides itself on being excellent,” she said.

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