Halifax advocates mark anniversary of Center's report, continue struggle for education equity

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Education advocates gather in Halifax, NC to mark the one-year anniversary of the Center's report and
the county's renewed struggle for education equity

This summer marked the one-year anniversary of the UNC Center for Civil Rights’ report, “Unless Our Children Begin to Learn Together: The State of Education in Halifax County.” To commemorate this milestone, education advocates in the community held a press conference at the Old Halifax County Courthouse, where the report was first presented, to review what had been accomplished in the year and the challenges that remain to bring high-quality, equitable education to Halifax County. Halifax County Board of Commissioners Chairman James Pierce and State Representative Angela Bryant were among those who addressed the crowd to call for high-quality education for every student in the county. CEES Chair Ms. Rebecca Copeland, Vice Chair Gary Grant, HCPS Chair Dr. Donna Hunter, long-time Halifax advocate Ms. Belle Frye, and Center for Civil Rights Managing Attorney Mark Dorosin also spoke.

Center for Civil Rights Managing
Attorney Mark Dorosin

The Center’s May 2011 report, analyzed the history and current educational impacts of Halifax County’s three racially isolated school districts: Roanoke Rapids Graded School District (RRGSD), Weldon City Schools (WCS), and Halifax County Public Schools (HCPS). WCS and RRGSD were chartered in the early 1900s; Weldon was a relatively racially integrated district, RRGSD served almost exclusively White students. RRGSD remains a disproportionate white enclave in this majority African American county, with 70% white student and 51% Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL) eligible students. WCS is 94% black and 75% FRL eligible, HCPS is 87% black and 90% FRL-eligible.

CEES Chair Rebecca Copeland

In the summer following the release of the Center’s Report, community groups sponsored a series of “Community Conversations” across the county to discuss the educational and social ramifications of racially segregated education in Halifax County. In September 2011, the Center addressed the Halifax County Commissioners, calling on that body to fulfill its duty to all the county’s students by exercising its power to merge the districts as a critical step towards equality and equity. While HCPS invited RRGSD and WCS to discuss interdistrict cooperation, the city districts united in opposition to any such measures. Community advocates continued to push for merger at Board of Commissioner and school board meetings, and in response to this sustained engagement, the commissioners hired Evergreen Solutions, a Florida-based firm, to study education quality in the county.

In December, a group of citizens and advocacy organizations formed the Coalition for Education and Economic Security (CEES), dedicated to educational reform, social progress, and an end to the long history of racial discrimination and civil rights abuses in Halifax County, which continue to hamper economic development. CEES also raised the issue of the county’s sales tax distribution and the county commissioners’ decision to use a distribution method that subsidizes WCS and RRGSD. Since the 1970s, the commissioners have annually selected the ad valorem method, which allows these two districts to receive a portion of the sales tax collected throughout the county because they also collect a supplemental district tax. Since Halifax County Public Schools does not have a school district tax, it does not receive any part of the sales tax, compounding the disparity between the county and city schools.

Halifax County Commissioners Chairman James Pierce

At the press conference, CEES Vice President Gary Grant, speaking on behalf of the Coalition, called upon county and school elected officials, parents, teachers, and students to continue the struggle for equity: “We bear witness to the fact that the problems of poor and barely mediocre student performance at the three public school systems has not been addressed. Nor has the root cause, the continuing extreme racial segregation among the three school districts in Halifax County. The quality of education has been undermined on a county-wide basis for much too long at too great a cost to too many of our children.”

In addition to the racial segregation that prevents these students from achieving their potential, the school districts are still struggling to provide a quality education to all their students and manage the demographic changes and financial challenges of rural North Carolina. Moreover, education quality is still a mixed picture, such that no one district can claim to provide the best education in the county.

State Representative and Halifax education advocate Angela Bryant
Ms. Belle Frye, Halifax resident and civil rights

Halifax County is still under state scrutiny through the ongoing Leandro case. The district agreed to a consent order in 2009 requiring the board placed to implement a three-year academic and administrative intervention plan, which was the subject of last week’s Superior Court hearings before Judge Howard Manning. Although NC DPI reported that Halifax County Schools made significant gains in test scores and high school graduation rates over the past four years, in 2011-2012, three out of six Halifax County elementary schools were designated “Low Performing” such that less than 50% of students at these schools are performing at or above grade level.

None of HCPS’s 11 schools met all of their NC ABC “Annual Measurable Objectives” for student performance and growth, while two out of four in Weldon and one out of four in RRGSD met their targets. At 85%, Weldon also had the highest graduation rate in the district, compared to 80% in RRGSD, 76% in HCPS, and 80% for the state overall.

Posted by Taiyyaba A. Qureshi on Mon. September 17, 2012 4:17 PM
Categories: Community Leaders, Education, Halifax County, Leandro, Race Discrimination, Segregation
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