Parents tell Durham Public Schools to address racial gaps in achievement, discipline

Parents and community members called upon the Durham school board Thursday night to address racial disparities in academic and disciplinary practices.
Parents and community members called upon the Durham school board Thursday night to address racial disparities in academic and disciplinary practices. AP file photo

The Durham school board got an earful Thursday night with 15 people, almost all black or Latino, urging Durham Public Schools to do more to address racial disparities in the district.

Several speakers wore “PAAC” T-shirts, for “Parents of African American Children.”

They talked about the low percentage of black and Latino teachers in the district; restorative justice, an alternative method of discipline that can avert suspensions; and the achievement gap between black and Latino students and students of other races.

The school board’s policy is not to respond directly to public comment.

“When I come here and I talk to you about teacher training,” DPS parent Danielle Caldwell said, “I’m really talking to you about cultural competence because I feel like across-the-board cultural competence training needs to be happening not only for our white teachers but also for our African-American teachers. We can have African-American teachers that do no support our children.”

Caldwell said the schools need to recognize all of the gifts that young people have, including artistic, athletic and public speaking.

Student Maddie Laurie urged the board to hire more black and Latino teachers in order to raise test scores and close the achievement.

“Students of color don’t have access to teachers that can provide more culturally relevant teaching and can better understand the situations that these students face,” she said.

According to a 2017 report, proficiency rates in the Durham Public Schools in the 2016-17 year ranged from 32.9 percent for black males to 82.6 for white females. (To see proficiency rates for black, white and Latino students, see page 20 of the report at bit.ly/2yQapFV)

Jovonia Lewis, education committee chairwoman for the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, said she was glad to learn that black students’ test scores rose 3 percent last year, but said that was not enough.

“We want double-digits growth toward proficiency,” she said. The district needs a culture that engages parents, Lewis said, and for those students whose parents don’t want to or can’t be engaged, the system must work extra hard to make up that gap.

“It’s not us against them, parents against teacher,” Lewis said. “It is us against structural racism that persists within the system.”

Riverside High student Elijah King talked about the success of the new restorative justice policy at his school.

“I’m telling you it works,” he said. “I know many of you on the board and I know you are good and moral people. And I know that you guys would love to see more things like this, because in-school and out-of-school suspensions just teach our kids that no one really cares.”

Andrea de la Torre talked through an interpreter about how her son, who is in a magnet middle school, is going to have to go to a different school because of his special needs. She said she wished the district would have explained this to her before she sent her son to the magnet school.

Harvey Hinton III, director of N.C. Central’s Men’s Achievement Center, spoke about the need to eliminate the stigma around vocational education in the district’s high schools and to make those programs more rigorous.

“Our parents do want vocational programming,” he said.

And Sylvester Williams, who hosts a weekly radio ministry, called for the elimination of evolution from the DPS curriculum on grounds that it promotes racism. Williams said students are taught that European people are somehow more developed than those of African descent because they are more highly evolved.

“We must not just start with an insert or removing a few textbooks,” Williams said. “We must stop the teaching of racism, which is what evolution is.”

Matt Goad: mattgoad@gmail.com
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