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WS/FCS Reaffirms Commitment to Supporting Civil Rights in Schools
September 26, 2023 – Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools leaders and community partners addressed the public yesterday to both acknowledge recent successes and look ahead to more work to be done in a press conference detailing the district’s response to a 2010 investigation by the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
The investigation began with a complaint that Black students in the district were facing more frequent and severe disciplinary measures than their white classmates, and in a report released last week, the OCR concurred with the complaint, noting higher rates of suspension for first offenses among students of color. While district leadership and policy have changed a lot since the investigation began over a decade ago, Superintendent Tricia McManus feels that its findings are more relevant than ever. It’s WS/FCS’ job to give every student of every background equitable access to a quality education, and tearing down barriers to that equitable access is a whole-community conversation that must be given due attention.
“I’m glad that this has been brought to the surface, because we need to be held accountable,” McManus said. “Our community partners, our city, our school board, our school district, our families, everyone needs to hold us accountable to the goals that we’re setting for our kids. Letting any student fall through the cracks isn’t good enough.”
Last year, WS/FCS took a massive step towards addressing concerns with disproportionate discipline data with the adoption of the Code of Character, Conduct, and Support. The code standardizes disciplinary practices for specific offenses across all schools so that students cannot face different degrees of punishment depending on who they are or where they attend. It also places greater emphasis than previous disciplinary codes on restorative practices, which help foster an atmosphere of cooperation and mutual concern between students and school staff when addressing behavioral issues. Out of school suspensions dropped in the first year of the code’s implementation, and the district will continuously revise the code based on feedback from students, educators, and families to reduce those numbers further.
“Triad Restorative Justice appreciates that the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools have acknowledged these discipline disparities and is working to address them,” said Triad Restorative Justice Executive Director Valerie Glass. “The new Code of Character, Conduct, and Support is a beginning step, and it needs to be strengthened with measures for community accountability and recognition of the role of school resource officers.”
In addition to McManus, WS/FCS was represented by several members of the Board of Education and the district’s senior team. The district was joined by representatives from My Brother’s Keeper Winston-Salem, the City of Winston-Salem, Forsyth Technical Community College, the NAACP, Triad Restorative Justice, and more. There is still plenty of work to be done to reduce disciplinary obstacles to education in WS/FCS, particularly among boys of color, and all of these organizations and more will be essential to solving those issues for the good of all students.
“No single school district can do it by itself,” said Reverend Paul Ford of Action4Equity Winston-Salem. “No single city government can do it by itself. You better believe no single non-profit can do it by itself. But we have the resources collectively.”
McManus is confident that the district is already on the right track to overcome disparities in discipline throughout the district. Continuing on that positive course will require continued commitment from educators and district leaders, as well as communication with all stakeholders, but there are ample reasons to be hopeful.
“We always say that hope is not a strategy, but hope is really important for all of our kids to feel,” McManus said. “They have to feel hope and they have to feel that we are behind them.”
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