With tensions at North Stanly High School recently heightened by a post resurfacing on social media, students and parents met with staff and members of the Stanly County Schools Central Office (SCS) to discuss the situation.
SCS Superintendent Dr. Jarrod Dennis and Director of Community Engagement Melissa Smith, along with Deputy Superintendent Dr. Amy Blake-Lewis, and members of the faith community, attended a community forum on Friday afternoon in the North Stanly Auditorium.
Dennis said the reason for the sense of urgency to have the meeting was because the staff didn’t want to wait.
“There is no manual for this,” he said. “That’s why we have you here, and that’s why we need your input,” referring to the parents present.
“We know there are things we should have done differently and will do differently in the future,” he added. “However, what we need to move forward is for our students to feel safe at school.”
Attendees were asked to take an online survey on their smartphones to express their fears and hopes for North Stanly. Of 100 polls, including North staff polls conducted earlier in the day, “poor communication and lack of understanding causing barriers between school and community” was one of the top picks. “Cell phones and social media have a negative influence on student behavior and learning.”
The floor was given to parents, students and others to speak. Wendy Wimbush, an ordained elder who has a student at North, said, “if you think everything is going on about a video, then you are being misled or having your thoughts wrong.”
The three-second video in question, which was first posted on Snapchat and has since been shared on Facebook, shows two white women singing the lyrics to “Alabama (expletive)”, a song by Clifford Trahan, also known as name of Johnny Rebel, a singer quoted by NPR as having been a “white supremacist musician”.
Wimbush said it’s time for parents “to stand up and take responsibility for your children, our children and the situation here.”
North’s mother, Sasha Williams, asked parents of white students how they would feel if they attended a school where the demographics of faculty and staff were “100% black.”
“How, as a parent, could you send your child to this school? How do you think your children would feel? said Williams.
North graduate Jasmine Scott said she came back and taught for two years at the school, but left because of how she felt in class.
“A lot of parents would come in, and because their child was struggling in my class, because I held them to high expectations, I was belittled in my position,” Scott said. “It’s not just about the students.
While most speakers talked about things like love, understanding, forgiveness and reconciliation, one speaker made a racist statement that caused several in attendance to leave.
Responding to the comment, Smith quickly chimed in, saying, “The priority is our students. Their feelings are very real.
“We have to listen (students) with an inner ear because they’re talking to us,” she said, “and it takes that long because they’re hurting.”
North pupil Andre Hill spoke about his own experiences at school, saying that because he disagreed with a teacher he had to take the lesson virtually while sitting at the library.
Hill said a teacher in the North told her the Black Lives Matter movement was ignorant. He also said that other minorities at the school, including LGBTQ students, did not want to come to school because they did not feel welcome.
Student body president Mac Barfield said the school has a Unity Club “for situations like this,” but noted that the school “has a wonderful history of not talking about things, no matter one way or the other, just push your feelings to the bottom and don’t talk.”
Barfield said many students this week came to him to talk to him. He said “come to our meetings. Let’s involve everyone. »
Billy Talbert, a 1998 North graduate, identified himself as the father of a girl in the social media video. He said his daughter apologized to her peers and felt remorse for the video.
“I read about (how) my daughter should be punished for what she did,” Talbert said in tears. “If you don’t think this won’t have lifelong consequences, you are sadly mistaken. Friendships have been altered perhaps where they will never be repaired. His job was compromised.
Talbert said he came to the meeting “to give my daughter a voice because I know in my heart, and everyone here who knows me and my daughter knows that no ill will or no evil was signified by her video. It’s not excusable; she’s 15.”
Blake-Lewis presented an action plan that included hiring a greater diversity of teachers and staff, as well as developing a support system for them. The plan also included: mentor groups for community leaders, effective cultural sensitivity and diversity training for teachers and students, strengthening the outlet for students to report concerns through the Say Something app , transparent accountability, rules and consequences, enforcing a statement condemning racism, educating and enforcing current cell phone policies, maintaining a safe school environment, inspiring children to succeed as young adults while giving them responsibility and priority, and smaller classes, as well as regular community forums.