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NC school board changes policies after slave auction

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The Chatham County School Board has approved changes to its anti-racism policies after reports surfaced that black students were ‘sold’ at a mock slave auction in one of the schools in the district.

Superintendent Anthony Jackson also apologized for what happened at JS Waters School in Goldston.

“Actions like these just don’t reflect who we are as a school system,” Jackson said. “And I say, shamelessly, will not be tolerated in the school system.”

The actions came after large crowds attended a school board meeting on Monday to demand that the district take action to remedy the situation and prevent similar situations from happening in the future. Crowds of parents, students and activists filled the meeting in support of those who spoke out about the racist incident.

The Chatham County school system has received national attention since mother Ashley Palmer accused on social media that her son suffered a ‘slave auction’ of black students.

“I want to do something that needs to be done here publicly. I want to apologize,” Jackson during the meeting. “Apologies to every student who has ever felt unsafe while in our care, to every student who has ever felt belittled, disrespected, or marginalized because of their race, ethnicity, gender, gender, religion or disability.

“At Chatham County Schools, we pride ourselves on bragging that diversity is our strength, and moving forward, our goal will be to ensure this celebration is inclusive of everyone. Going forward, my personal commitment to you is that we will do better.

A coalition of local groups said Monday afternoon that the school board must take action to remedy the situation, including asking students to apologize for the auction. The coalition also wants the district to increase penalties for students and school employees who engage in racist behavior, including making it a dismissable offense.

“The acts committed towards our son and other classmates were extremely disturbing, but not surprising since this is not the first time that our family has had to deal with racist acts towards one of our children,” said Palmer said at a press conference Monday before the school council meeting. Palmer addressed a crowd of 150 outside the Pittsboro Presbyterian Church.

“It’s only the first time we’ve decided to go the extra mile to make sure it wasn’t just a cultural acceptance message board,” Palmer said. “But I hoped to be recognized for the extreme racism that it is and followed by real consequences worthy of such a heinous act.”

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Ashley Palmer speaks during a press conference at the Presbyterian Church in Pittsboro on Monday, March 14, 2022. Palmer accused on social media that her son experienced a black student slave auction run by classmates at JS Waters School in Goldston. Travis Long [email protected]

Ronda Taylor Bullock, an anti-racism trainer who spoke at Monday’s press conference, called the auction an “act of racism” and “an act of white supremacy in broad daylight.” Bullock, who attended JS Waters School, said she didn’t want to ‘demonize’ the students who staged the auction, but said the district needed to respond forcefully to stop black students from coping. to more acts of discrimination.

“How many students should go to JS Waters with a similar story?” said Bullock. “How many more must cross burned, marked as slaves by these horrible memories that we will not forget?”

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Dozens of people attend a press conference at the Presbyterian Church in Pittsboro on Monday, March 14, 2022 after Ashley Palmer accused on social media that her son suffered a black student slave auction directed by classmates at JS Waters School in Goldston. Travis Long [email protected]

Auction in the presence of teachers

A Chatham Organizing For Racial Equity (CORE) press release on Monday offers additional details about the reported slave auction, such as that it involved schoolchildren and occurred “in the presence of staff and teachers, and while it was being filmed”.

JS Waters is a rural K-8 school, located approximately 80 miles southwest of Raleigh. It has 195 students, 68% of whom are white.

“These students were encouraged not only to commit brazen and overt acts of racism, but to further retaliate and continue their aggression after serving a cursory one-day suspension,” according to the press release. “The school administrators’ initial lukewarm response to these traumatic incidents is problematic.”

Last week, Jackson sent a letter to families condemning “recent unacceptable incidents.” He said the district “must be committed to dismantling racism and other negative influences that affect our school community.”

Ask students to apologize for the auction

The coalition presented a list of eight recommendations to the school board meeting. The list includes:

The students involved should apologize to their targets of discrimination and to the school community.

Child trauma counselors qualified in racial trauma should be available to support students.

Revise the student code of conduct “to designate racist and discriminatory remarks as separate hate speech from the current bullying policy with corresponding consequences that match the severity of this abuse our children face.”

Revise school staff guidelines “to make racist remarks and behavior a dismissal offense for teachers and staff”.

Examine the administration’s response “to this racist incident and previous racist incidents at the school to determine the adequacy of their responses.”

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Parents, students and community members leave a Chatham County School Board meeting following a public comment session after reports of a ‘slave auction’ by Black students led by classmates from JS Waters School in Goldston sparked a blackout in the community. Travis Long [email protected]

“Racist acts shouldn’t be punished on the same level as someone pulling another student’s hair, with a one-day suspension,” Palmer said. “He should have his own designation, reportable at the county level and dealt with the significant consequences he deserves. No child should be abused by peers and staff.

Bullock said the district must make it clear to school employees that they cannot tolerate racist actions in schools.

“If educators are racist and maintain a toxic racist environment, they should be fired,” Bullock said. “We need to normalize that being the victim of racism is an offense punishable by fire for those who commit this evil.”

This story was originally published March 14, 2022 1:01 p.m.

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T. Keung Hui has been covering K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. Its primary focus is Wake County, but it also covers statewide education issues.

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Aaron Sánchez-Guerra is a breaking news reporter for The News & Observer and previously covered business and real estate for the paper. His experience includes reporting for WLRN Public Media in Miami and as a freelance journalist in Raleigh and Charlotte covering Latin American communities. He is a graduate of North Carolina State University, a native Spanish speaker, and was born in Mexico. You can follow his work on Twitter at @aaronsguerra.