Meeting while demonstrations nationwide continue over the death of George Floyd, members of the N.C. State Board of Education today issued an urgent call to action to eliminate inequities and racism from the state’s public schools. Board Chairman Eric Davis opened the board’s regular monthly meeting by invoking Floyd’s name as an alarming wake-up call that exposes the “systemic practices which continue to plague our nation and result in the physical and mental deaths many black and brown citizens experience every day.”
In a frank statement in which he acknowledged his own limitations as a white man, Davis said the board and state education leaders must take aggressive action to address discrimination and racism experienced regularly by people of color.
“The pandemic of the past two months and the events of the past week have revealed in undeniable clarity the vast inequities that are embedded in our society and the underlying systemic racism that sustains them,” Davis said. “Because our education system reflects our society, our schools are not immune from these societal imperfections which diminish the education of every child in our state. My colleagues and I have seen first-hand their impact on our students and have felt the anger and frustrations that so many of our fellow citizens feel. Moreover, some of us have personally experienced and lived with these inequities and racism.”
Davis urged a united effort to respond effectively.
“Progress removing inequities and racism requires change, and change requires learning. And we are in great need of all three: urgent progress, systemic change and deeper understanding through learning – particularly from those who have different life experiences,” Davis said. “Many education leaders across our state are already engaged in this work and we join hands with them. Moreover, we invite leaders at all levels in our state, in all parts of our state who have any role in the education of our children to join in.”
Davis went on to draw a parallel with the coronavirus pandemic.
“The inequities and racism that divide us are a social pandemic that we have suffered under for far too long,” he said. “Like COVID-19, which is seemingly invisible, which can be carried, transmitted, and received unknowingly, inequities and racism are in the air we breathe. And like COVID-19, we must first mitigate its spread and ultimately vaccinate ourselves and remove it from our society.
“This will take more than being empathetic to those who suffer under these inequities and racism, it will take intentional, determined, relentless commitment and work from all, especially those of us who are white and in positions of power and leadership, to end this societal pandemic. Our children’s education, their future and our future with them, depends on it.”
Several other board members and advisors also expressed a strong commitment to the board’s stated goal of achieving greater equity and educational opportunity for all students.
James Ford, a board member and former state teacher of the year who often speaks out on issues of equity, said the board must not just say that all black lives matter, but also demonstrate that through its actions. “Black lives matter … and they should matter in our schools,” Ford said.
“We are duty bound to deliberately be anti-racist and to cleanse this institution of every vestige of white supremacy that exists,” Ford said. “Our work for constructing a better school system, a better state, country, is just beginning. We have to reconcile our foundational flaws before we can move forward. … I want to use this moment to point to the clarion call to do right, to do good and to be just in everything that we do.”
Jill Camnitz, vice chair of the board’s Strategic Planning Committee, said the board can help improve the lives of students across the state.
“We have the power to change the lives of the students who attend our public schools so that they will not have to live lives of disconnection, powerlessness and poverty,” Camnitz said. The board took a huge step forward within the last year by adopting a strategic plan with a key focus on equity, she said.
“We must keep pushing hard to turn that into meaningful change,” Camnitz said. “This is urgent work and our current circumstances only increase that urgency.”
Board member JB Buxton recalled the board’s session last year at N.C. A&T State University, where it worked on its strategic plan and began that meeting by remembering the legacy of the Greensboro Four – the A&T students who led the lunch counter sit-ins protesting racial segregation.
“They were big enough to meet the moment in 1960,” Buxton said, “and now we have that challenge ourselves.”
Board member Amy White read a Bible verse that speaks to unity, and unity through humility. “Let each of us look out not only for our own interests, but also the interests of others,” she said.
“I want you to know that I am committed to working for the best interest of all students,” White said. “For those of you that have suffered terribly because of my point of privilege – I admit that – and I commit to you today that my heart and my work will be with you.”
Board Vice Chairman Alan Duncan said he hopes that the current national crisis will lead to real change.
Duncan said that while the board continues to meet remotely, he hopes the board will be able to meet soon in person “at this juncture of American life that we hope becomes a pivotal moment for the good of the life of the nation.”
In related business, the board also heard a presentation from NC Child, an advocacy group, on The State of North Carolina’s Children. The board urged local school leaders, including superintendents and elected board chairs, to review the information detailed in the presentation. It can be accessed from today's board agenda from this page, then looking under the Strategic Planning Committee Report: New Business: Strategic Planning Next Steps-Partnerships and opening the attachment: Tucker _SBEPresentation.pdf
Audio from today’s State Board of Education meeting can be accessed here.