Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Durham School of the Art's enforces a ball of confusion

“I can’t talk with you. You’re not the parent,” Michelle Hunt, assistant principal at the Durham School of the Arts said.

“I’m with the parent,” I responded.

“I’m here, I give him permission,” the mother chimed in with the type of disdain that needed a few bad words to accent her feelings.

“I need it in writing,” Hunt said while rushing to avoid the subject.

“I can write it now,” the parent said.

“Talk to our lawyers,” were Hunt’s last words before leaving us in the middle of the hallway to process what had just happened.

The confrontation with Hunt followed an attempt to understand the suspension of a student for sexual harassment. The suspension was the result of a combination of hearsay evidence, loads of implicit bias that assumed the merits of a white, female’s version to a story about youth playing in the back of a bus and kids talking about a black boy and a white girl doing what kids often do.

It was all consensual. It all ended after he reached first base.

The boy in question is an honor student. He has more A’s than B’s and is the type of young man who will soon be courted by schools like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Duke and Stanford. His short-term plan is to apply for the North Carolina School of Math and Science. His academic credentials make him a prime candidate for the illustrious school.

This is a kid with professional parents. He’s never been in trouble. He spends his spare time reading books about astronomy and history. The only thing standing in the way of his becoming one of the nation’s who’s who is the time it takes to get from point A to point B.

So, why was he suspended?

That’s one of the questions I wanted to ask Hunt and David Hawks, principal at the School of the Arts before I was given the proverbial speak to the hand. I also wanted detailed information related to the process used to determine the need for a three day suspension.  I was seeking evidence from the system policy manual that justified the decision because I couldn’t find any.

Beyond my need for answers, I had a point to make. It’s a critical point involving the psychological burdens that black boys endure after being suspended. I felt compelled to give a quick lesson on how the decision could potentially damage the student.

What was make clear, based on the actions of Hunt, is a total lack of appreciation for the role advocates and parents play in protecting students from the damage of implicit bias. Her lack of respect for me, as an advocate, combined with a lack of support in meeting the demands of a concerned parent, sent a message that left both of us troubled.

She needed to hear how parents feel when their sons get labeled and harassed by their peers. She needed to consider how a suspension can feel like the beginning of a life deconstructing the positive self-imagery of a black boy. She needed to consider the process used to determine guilt, and how the race of his accuser titled the way she handled the investigation.

I would say more about the investigation, but, due to my desire to protect both students from further bullying, simply trust me. Oh, yes, this is a case of bullying. This boy has been bullied by both students and members of the staff. What happened was a witch hunt that assumed guilt versus a real conversation about moving forward after students began making fun of her and labeling him.

This is also about her being bullied. After the word spread regarding what happened, both students were bombarded by other students who craved the details on what happened. Sadly, the administration lacks the insight needed to bring healthy closure to this situation.

My research on the Durham School of the Arts has uncovered a sad truth. There is a vast disparity in the suspension of whites versus blacks. It is also clear that David Hawks tends to rule too harsh in the suspension of black boys. Beyond the apparent discrepancy reflected in those numbers, is a lack of passionate customer service. Hunt’s lack of patience in this case exposes a clear case of implicit bias.

I recommend some serious cultural sensitivity training for both Hunt and Hawkins. If not granted, I present to you evidence that suggest the need for rapid changes in leadership at the Durham School of the Arts.

Stay tuned-in for updates.

1 comment:

  1. When administrators listen to parents and advocates, solutions can be found. If administrators are going to get defensive and paranoid and refuse to communicate with parents of black kids, hiding behind lawyers, the kids are the ones who suffer, just as you say. I can't decide if this makes me sad or really, really mad.