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"This is the perfect opportunity:" Barbara Fedders runs for CHCCS Board of Education

Photo Courtesy of Barbra Fedders

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series on Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Board of Education candidates. The Daily Tar Heel is not endorsing any CHCCS school board candidates.

Barbara Fedders is one of 14 candidates running for a seat on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education. 

Fedders, who has lived in Carrboro since 2008, is an associate professor at the UNC School of Law. At the law school, she directs the Youth Justice Clinic, which works primarily with children and adolescents facing legal trouble. 

Fedders said she has learned a lot from her work in the Youth Justice Clinic about the children who often find themselves in unfortunate situations with the law. 

“I have seen, in that work, a couple of things,” she said. “One is that the thing that unites kids who are getting in trouble is that they are having a hard time in school. The reason for that hard time can vary.”

Fedders said many of the things she has learned and experienced through her position at the Youth Justice Clinic made her think about policymaking in a school setting. 

“I've always felt like when the chance arose that I wanted to be able to use my skill set in a different way — in a policymaking way in particular — around school issues. And so this is the perfect opportunity,” she said. 

Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham), who endorsed Fedders, said that during her time as a district court judge in Durham, she met Fedders through her work at the Youth Justice Clinic and was extremely impressed. 

“I was the district court judge and was very impressed by how she taught her students: how they prepared cases, their compassion for kids and their knowledge about the educational rights of their clients,” Morey said. “Over the years, watching her in court, I just really respected her excellent advocacy for kids and their educational needs.”

Fedders has two daughters, aged 11 and 15, who have attended CHCCS schools since they were in kindergarten.

She said each of her daughters had unique experiences in their respective CHCCS classrooms, and that her experience navigating those experiences as a parent adds to her qualifications. 

Fedders said one of the main things that she wants to address if elected — which has been brought to her attention when speaking with community groups and CHCCS parents — is the district’s achievement gap. 

“It is clear that this district has been plagued by a massive gap in opportunity and achievement based on race and socioeconomic status, disability and language abilities,” she said. 

Fedders said she thinks eliminating that achievement gap, specifically in literacy rate, is extremely important. 

“I think literacy is an issue that should be a bipartisan issue. It’s an equity issue,” she said. “By the time you get to third grade, for example, if you're not reading at grade level, it becomes almost impossible to catch up.”

Fedders said she also wanted to run for school board because of the growing political importance of education policy, both on a national and statewide level. 

“School boards across the country are becoming sites of real political battles that have sometimes very little to do with education,” she said. 

Carrboro Mayor Damon Seils, who also endorsed Fedders, said the increasingly political nature of school boards is one of the reasons he thinks having a candidate like Fedders on the board is so important. 

“We're seeing increasing interference by state legislators into curricula matters and decisions at the state level that I think are making our young people less safe, both in terms of their physical safety and their emotional well-being,” he said. 

Fedders said that even though there are many candidates running for a seat on the board with platforms similar to her own, her experience working with children through the Youth Justice Clinic makes her uniquely qualified for the job. 

“It's understanding the real-world impact of policies, like how do good or bad education policies play out in a kid’s life,” she said. “Other people may know that as well, but I think they may know it at more of a distance than I do because I’ve been doing this for so long.” 

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