Chatham County school board OKs reviews after alleged racism incidents

Tuesday, March 15, 2022
Chatham County advocacy group makes recommendations to school board
In an incident at J.S. Waters School in Goldston, White middle school athletes were accused of holding a mock slave auction of their Black teammates.

GOLDSTON, N.C. (WTVD) -- Days after an uproar ignited over the alleged mock slave auction at a Chatham County K-8 school, dozens of parents and students flooded the school board meeting Monday night, to sound off to district leaders.

They came expressing concerns and emotions that had been pent up for a long time. There was a sense that the incident at the J.S. Waters School was just the tip of the iceberg.

"I do not want racism to be in our schools," said one Chatham elementary schoolboy to the board. He was one in the standing-room-only crowd in Pittsboro.

They detailed what many here called a deep-seated culture of racist abuse at Chatham County schools.

"This is not a new problem. This is not a black problem. This is a white problem that our ancestors created and we have inherited," said one mother.

Before the crowd went inside, parents and activists gathered outside the old courthouse, including Ashley Palmer. Her 14-year old son is one of two biracial boys, she says was targeted by white classmates in a mock slave auction at baseball practice at the school. Palmer and the others are dissatisfied with the punishments for the students behind it.

"Racist acts shouldn't be disciplined on the same level as someone pulling another student's hair with a one-day suspension," Palmer told the crowd.

A Chatham County advocacy group dissatisfied with the school district's handling of recent racist incidents on school campuses submitted a list of recommendations to the school board for remedying what it said is a cultural, structural, and institutional problem.

Dr. Anthony Jackson, Chatham County Schools Superintendent, responded with a letter sent to every family in the school district, saying racist behavior has no place in their schools.

In a statement, Chatham Organizing for Racial Equity (CORE), referred to Jackson's and other administrators' response as "tepid" and problematic, saying it has now heard from "multiple families and former students who have recalled racialized bullying, macroaggressions, terror, and trauma experienced in Chatham County Schools."

"This coalition believes we are at a pivotal moment in our district to denounce racism and white supremacy by implementing policies, procedures, and consequences in our school system that support safe and just learning environments," the statement read.

The organization, which held a news conference Monday along with Ashley Palmer, the mother of one of the students targeted in the incident at J.S. Waters School, submitted the following list of recommendations to the board of education and school administrators:

  1. Collaborate closely with community equity partners, parents of color, and this coalition for community-led approaches to an equitable school system.
  2. The students involved need to apologize to their discrimination targets and the school community.
  3. Child trauma counselors skilled in racial trauma should be available to support all students impacted.
  4. Review and revise the Chatham County Code of Conduct to designate racist and discriminatory remarks as hate speech separate from the current bullying policy with corresponding consequences that match the severity of this abuse our children face.
  5. Review and revise the Chatham County Schools Personnel Guidelines to make racist remarks and behaviors a fireable offense for teachers and staff. Racist educators have no place in the classroom.
  6. Review the administration's response to this and previous racist incidents at the school to determine the appropriateness of their responses. Consequences have to be sufficient to deter future acts.
  7. Provide protocol for reporting hate crimes to Federal Authorities when the level of behavior warrants.

Palmer said she and her family are seeking legal action for the assault and continuous harassment of her son.

Palmer said the students who perpetrated the mock slave auction received a one-day suspension from school and upon their return, one of the students repeatedly hit her son with a baseball.

Later, inside at the meeting, another biracial mother invoked the hot-button national discussions about whether to teach the nation's uglier racial history in schools; suggesting the answer is yes.

"When I heard about what happened at school from another parent, I asked my son why didn't he tell me. He responded with, 'Mom, it wasn't a big deal,'" she said. "I know many of you (board members) have already brushed me off because of the political climate in education. Remember, I am a mother who had to explain to my son why being auctioned off as a slave is unacceptable."

Jackson, who is in his first year at the helm, is now grappling with his first high-profile district controversy. He recommended a series of proposals, including:

  • A full review of Chatham's County's Student Code of Conduct
  • New training for support staff
  • New rounds of critical conversations on race at the school and community level

Jackson also offered the apology that many students and parents said was long overdue.

"I want to offer an apology; an apology to every single student who has felt unsafe while in our care," he said.

The board voted unanimously to approve Jackson's proposals.