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Report cards point out racial disparities in schools across the state, including those in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
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Report cards point out racial disparities in schools across the state, including those in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools

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Black students in North Carolina and Forsyth County schools are disproportionately punished compared with their white peers, according to reports published by the Youth Justice Project on Friday.

The annual Racial Equity Report Cards from the Youth Justice Project, run by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, highlight data from recent school years for all public school systems in the state, as well as a statewide report card.

Peggy Nicholson, the director of the Youth Justice Project, said in a news release that these persistent racial disparities are a “tough pill to swallow,” but she expressed hope that the report cards can “serve as a launching point for community education and discussion.”

“They are not meant as an attack on the critically important public institutions that serve our youth, but rather, as a call-to-action for students, parents, advocates, policymakers and institutional stakeholders to collectively examine the causes of racial inequity in their community and develop solutions that will help young people, especially youth of color, avoid and escape the school-to-prison pipeline,” she said.

In many cases, racial disparities in punishment and academic achievement were worse in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools than for the North Carolina overall.

For example, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County was one of 17 school systems in North Carolina where the disparities in short-term suspensions were worse than the state’s.

For the state overall, black students were 4.3 times more likely than white students to face short-term suspension.

In Forsyth County, black students were 6.3 times more likely to face that punishment.

And the share of short-term suspensions over the past three years for black students in Forsyth County Schools has increased slightly, according to the group’s current and past report cards.

On achievement, for the state overall, white students are twice as likely as black students in Grades 3 through 8 to score “career and college ready” on end-of -grade exams. For Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, white students are 2.6 times as likely to be ready.

And when it comes to juvenile delinquency court, black students at the state level were 3.7 times more likely than white students to be referred. In Forsyth County, they were 5.5 times more likely.

Nearly 61 percent of the students suspended in the 2016-17 school year in the school system were black, while black students make up less than 30 percent of the school system’s overall population.

Brent Campbell, a spokesman for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, said it is important that the disparities are acknowledged.

“We follow this type of data closely and have worked and will continue to work to make closing these gaps a priority,” Campbell said.

The school system has implanted such programs as Inspire340, which recognizes the schools with “Priority” or “Focus” affiliation. It is increasing prekindergarten programs, focusing on social and emotional learning and working with such partners as Forsyth Promise.

This is the third consecutive year that Youth Justice Project has put out these report cards. This is the first year the group has included racial diversity among teachers.

The group cites a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, which found black students who were exposed early on to at least one black teacher performed better.

For the 2017-18 school year, 78 percent of teachers in North Carolina were white while just 48 percent of the students were white

At the local level, 74 percent of teachers were white and the white student population was 38 percent.

Campbell said there have been efforts in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools to increase teacher diversity.

“In the past year we have increased efforts to attend recruitment fairs like the CIAA Expo, as well as recruitment fairs at Fayetteville State, Livingstone College, Johnson C. Smith University and North Carolina Central,” Campbell said.

“We already work with Winston-Salem State,” he said. “We have increased advertising and recruitment efforts to attract diverse teachers, and we’ve seen an increased interest among teachers from diverse backgrounds.”

Campbell said the school system’s administration has the support of the school board, which has made it clear that these issues are among its top priorities.

The Youth Justice Project’s Nicholson said that with the newly elected school board, she sees the possibility for improvements in coming report cards.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice is the same organization that helped file a federal complaint against Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools and the local school board regarding alleged racial discrimination against students at Ashley Academy for Cultural and Global Studies.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights said it would open an investigation based on the complaint.

mbragg@wsjournal.com 336-727-7278 @braggmichaelc

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