Friday, June 21, 2013
Lack of support for all-male academy for black and Hispanic boys may trigger racial divide in Durham, NC
Photo from Teaching.monster.com
The back and forth bickering between members of Durham’s Board of Education could be the prelude to impassioned racial division.
The board is split, on racial lines, over a proposal to create an all-male academy to target black and Hispanic students. White board members are expressing concerns that the academy is too costly. Black board members consider the approach essential given the current state of black and Hispanic male students.
The board will vote on June 27, and many feel the proposal will fail given the 4 to 3 white majority.
The concerns of white board members are perceived as further validation that they don’t care about black students. It’s an old cry that forged a wedge in Durham that landed the city the label black sheep of North Carolina by the Greensboro News & Record. It was an era of extreme tension that resulted in people being arrested during school board meetings for protesting against an assumed racist agenda.
Things could get worse if the current board refuses to see beyond counting the cost related to the forming of an all-male school. If white board members want to make this about cost, they will reap the fury of a community disgusted with a lack of response to growing problems among black and brown boys.
White board members can’t hide behind the net of cost restraints. The perception of racial insensitivity is the subject of a U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights investigation into whether Durham Public Schools disciplines black students and students with disabilities more than others. The mounting of evidence suggest the need for an alternative approach, and the failure to consider the all-mail academy will send a message that will hamper the board’s ability to function beyond the assumption of racism.
The lawsuit against DPS was filed by the Advocates for Children’s Services, a project of Legal Aid of North Carolina, and the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the Civil Rights Project of UCLA. The lawsuit alleges that DPS suspends black students at more than four times the rate of white students. The complaint also claims DPS suspended 17 percent of all students with disabilities, compared with 8.4 percent of students without disabilities.
The lawsuit addresses a 15-year old eighth-grader who started failing classes after being suspended 24 days during the 2011-12 school year due to behavior linked to mental issues.
"At no point did DPS discuss or consider substantive ways to address his problem behaviors without resorting to the punitive measure of out-of-school suspension. The school also failed to provide (him) with any education services while he was suspended, resulting in his falling even farther behind," the complaint states.
An all-male academy could be used to offset some of the concerns stated in the complaint.
“This is a very resource-intensive endeavor that would require more money than what follows a student,” Leigh Bordley, member of the school board, stated at a recent town meeting to discuss the proposal. “To be true to the success of these types of schools, we’ll need that additional funding.”
Bordley went on to claim the R.N. Harris Integrated Arts/Core Knowledge Magnet School serves the same purpose as the proposed all-male academy.
“We are doing it,” Bordley argued. “We’re having success there and we’re not replicating it. I want our resources to go to our neediest children. It takes more than the funds that follow a student to make this successful.”
Bordley’s conjecture is rooted in the type of hyperbole that leaves one wondering if she lives with her head in the sand. Discussions related to the education of black boys in Durham are held within a context that assumes black boys are playing on an equal playing field. Something is wrong, and Bordley and her cohorts are making things worse by making assumptions that make it seem they have never taken a step into the world of black male youth.
Eric Becoats, DPS superintendent, stressed the importance of taking extra steps to assure black and brown boys don’t fall through the cracks. Heidi Carter, board chair for DPS, stated she needs more data before moving forward.
Excuse me. More data? Suspensions, dropouts and low academic performance aren’t enough data to support pulling your head from the sand to seek a way to rescue these boys.
The school board was handed extensive data that proves the success of all-male schools across the county. Carter asked for more. Why do black boys always need more to get a chance to succeed?
Minnie Forte-Brown, the normally calm and reconciliatory board vice chair, almost busted a fuse when begging board members to think outside the box.
“We know that we have children who are drowning. But what are we going to do to help them?” Forte-Brown said. “I want you to think and stop being scared. You’ve got to step out on faith. We’ve had kitchen table conversations, but we’ve never had the community that’s before you today.”
Forte-Brown asked the board to do something. “If it works, it works. If it fails, it fails. But to not do it is unconscionable.”
Board member Omega Curtis Parker asked members not to discount the plan based on cost.
“We can’t stop living or educating these children because times are hard,” she said. “It’s our responsibility to do what we can for our constituency. It’s been presented to us and funds have been identified. But there is a particular segment of our community that needs to be serves, who tend to be minority. Why are we so much against what’s good for our children?”
Becoats continues to emphasize the money is there to support the all-male academy, and that money will not be pulled from existing schools. He says the school will mirror the Durham School of the Arts and City Medicine Academy in offering small classes with themed instruction.
It hasn’t been enough to sway white board members to consider what the black community has been feeling for years. From Bill Bell, the mayor, to countless black community leaders – something has to be done before it is too late.
It may not be racist for the white board members to vote against this proposal, but, if they do, it will be virtually impossible for the black community to ever support their right to speak on the behalf of black children.
Look for the turning back of the clock.