Chatham Superintendent's plan unanimously adopted by board of education

Vote follows hour-long public comment session, press conference, during which organizers and leaders demand change following 'slave auction' at J.S. Waters School

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Chatham County's board of education unanimously approved a set of recommendations made by Superintendent Dr. Anthony Jackson at the board's meeting Monday to address racial incidents reported at J.S. Waters and other county schools.

Prior to the presentation and approval of Jackson's plan, 21 speakers addressed the board in an hour-long public comment period about the incident. The meeting, held at Chatham's historic courthouse in Pittsboro, was standing-room only.

Jackson, in remarks on Monday night, made an apology "to every student who has ever felt unsafe while in our care. To every student who has ever felt demeaned, disrespected or marginalized because of their race, ethnicity, sex, gender, religion or disability. In Chatham County Schools, we proudly boast that diversity is our strength, and moving forward it will be our intentional focus to ensure that this celebration includes everyone. Moving forward my commitment to you is that we will do better."

During the meeting, one speaker said what happened at J.S. Waters "was just another episode among a consistent pattern of racial episodes," a pattern which "must be eliminated root and branch."

Other speakers at a press conference held prior to board meeting echoed similar sentiments. Ashley Palmer, the mother of the 8th-grader subject to the mock auction, also spoke at the press conference, but didn't address the board later in the evening.

In her remarks, Palmer said the acts commited toward her son and other classmates "were extremely disturbing, however not surprising, since this isn't the first time our family has had to deal with racist acts toward one of our children."

Palmer said she and members of CORE — Chatham Organizing for Racial Equity — were joined by others in the community "to provide real tangible solutions to make racist acts handled appropriately without the need to go to social media, and also create a teaching opportunity for both children and administrators."

See full coverage in this week's News + Record print edition, which publishes Wednesday, and in updated stories here.

Here's the full text of Dr. Jackson's list of recommendations:

Superintendent’s recommendations to board, message to the community following racial incidents

Schools are for children, and as with parents, we are responsible for helping students realize their full potential. Creating safe environments for students is the first promise schools make to families. Bring us your children and we will keep them safe.

Over the last week, we have all heard or read accounts of experiences that children have had in our school system. These accounts of mock slave auctions, use of racial epithets, and images have shaken us to our core. Experiences that none of us would say are OK, acceptable or justifiable. As I shared in my letter to our school community, actions such as these are not reflective of who we are as a school system and will not be tolerated. Those who participate in acts that demean any person are acting outside the values of our school system and will be held accountable using every means at our disposal. As painful as it has been to hear some of these accounts, I want to thank those who exercised the courage to step forward and speak their truth. It is now our responsibility to do the things all students need to be the true beneficiaries of the many wonderful programs and opportunities we have to offer in our school system. We want to work with our community partners to ensure this happens.

As a newcomer to our school system and community, before I offer any plans, I want to first offer an apology.

An apology to every student who has ever felt unsafe while in our care. To every student who has ever felt demeaned, disrespected or marginalized because of their race, ethnicity, sex, gender, religion or disability.  In Chatham County Schools, we proudly boast that diversity is our strength, and moving forward it will be our intentional focus to ensure that this celebration includes everyone. Moving forward my commitment to you is that we will do better.

With that said, I will be making four very clear recommendations to the Board of Education for immediate action and direction. These actions are a start and are intended to:

  1. Help us begin the healing/restorative process.
  2. Ensure that this does not happen in our schools again by making adjustments to existing policies and ensuring that our school leaders have the tools needed to act decisively.
  3. To build stronger relationships with community members and organizations to align our work to renounce behaviors that demean or disrespect any person on the basis of their race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or religion.
  4. Begin building the appropriate infrastructure (human capital) to ensure that our schools have the support they need to see, hear and act when students cry out for help.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. Policy Regulations
  2. Revisions to the Student Code of Conduct
  3. Training
    1. Staff Training
    2. Restorative Circles and Focus Groups for Students
    3. Build formal relationships with Local Community Agencies and Non-Profit
  4. Resources
    1. Authorize staff to immediately employ a community engagement coordinator to assist us with supporting parents with accessing community-based support for students and providing support to them as they exercise agency and advocacy on behalf of their students.

I ask our community to see these changes as a beginning and not a fix. None of this will work if we continue operating in silos. We are better together. 

Working together, I am confident that we can provide amazing educational opportunities and experiences for all of our children in school environments where they feel safe and welcome. This is our moment. Chatham County Schools stands ready to work with you to build a brighter unified community. Our children deserve this and our community will be better because of this.

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