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A bit of hopeful news to start the final month of the year from-the ACLU of North Carolina:

Lake Lure School Board Votes to Reinstate LGBTQ+ and Other Student Clubs

LAKE LURE, N.C. – The Board of Directors of Lake Lure Classical Academy voted in a special session last night to lift its ban on student-led clubs. A new policy will require K-8 students, but not high school students, to obtain parental consent to join clubs.

The board had suspended all student-led noncurricular clubs after some community members challenged an LGBTQ+ club that was recently formed to promote tolerance and equality for all students. The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NCLF) had urged the school to rescind the ban and provide equal treatment to all student-run clubs, including the LGBTQ+ club.

“We commend the board for allowing all student-run clubs to have equal access to school resources,” said Chris Brook, Legal Director of the ACLU-NCLF. “Federal law requires all students clubs – whether it’s a chess club, Bible study group, or Gay-Straight Alliance – to be treated equally. It’s also important that the new policy allows high school students to exercise their First Amendment right to decide what clubs to join. Students should be free to join LGBTQ+ and Gay-Straight Alliance clubs that seek to create a safe space and promote equality for all students on campus. ”

In a Nov. 18 letter, the ACLU-NCLF explained that the federal Equal Access Act forbids schools from permitting some student groups while barring others. LLCA has a history of allowing noncurricular students organizations, including a campus Christian organization that has met on campus for five years.

The ACLU-NCLF’s letter is available at http://acluofnc.org/files/letters/ACLUNC_Letter_to_LLCA_LGBTQ_Club.pdf

News

Here’s a spot of good news to brighten a rather dreary Thanksgiving week landscape: a science program at Fayetteville State, one of North Carolina’s network of historically black colleges and universities (HBCU’s) is being celebrated as a national leader. This from an article in the the Fayetteville Observer:

“ForensicsColleges.com, a website that tracks forensic science programs, lists FSU as No. 2 among its top 15 programs in the nation, based on teaching hands-on skills with laboratory classes, seminars and internships or field study. The site also looked at facilities, partnerships and career placement opportunities. The website, which is run by an educational publishing company called Sechel Ventures, says it seeks to provide a detailed, researched directory of programs and careers in the forensics field.”

The rating comes as a welcome boost to HBCU’s which have so long suffered from underinvestment and small-to-non-existent campus endowments. The obvious take away: HBCU’s can and often do provide a high quality education to thousands of students. The key is to give the schools the resources and tools they need to survive and thrive. Let’s hope state lawmakers are paying attention.

Commentary

One of this weekend’s “must read” editorials appeared in the Sunday edition of the Winston-Salem Journal under the headline “Low-performing schools: Local system right to stand up to legislature.”

The subject was last week’s over-the-top interrogation at a General Assembly oversight committee during which Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and his lieutenants lined up to bash and harass some hardworking local school officials from Winston-Salem. The subject was Berger’s ill-conceived and destructive school grading system which, as Senator Bob Rucho admitted in a Freudian moment, is “designed to to show that the (public school) system has failed.”

Here’s the Journal:

“Earlier this year, the legislature changed the definition of ‘low-performing schools’ in a way that greatly expanded their number. The legislature then called for special reports on such schools, and threatened school principals whose schools were defined as ‘low performing” for more than two years. As a result, the number of schools in Forsyth County — and throughout the state — that meet the definition have increased significantly, undermining schools that were showing progress and threatening them with dire consequences.

Our school board pushed back with two resolutions, stating that the system would apply the same standards to all its schools and that the system would not take action against any of the principals at the schools in question, calling the requirement to do so ‘arbitrary and capricious.’

So the legislative leaders, who have never shown much love for public education, called our educators on the carpet.

While there, [Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Superintendent Beverly] Emory and [school board Chairwoman Dana] Jones tried to discuss the issues, but the legislature was more interested in making sure that our school system would comply with their dictates….

Unfortunately, the senators weren’t about to listen. As the editorial noted:

“Emory said at one point: ‘Do we intend to comply? Absolutely. Are there differences in opinion here? Yes.’

Ultimately, our system will have to follow the legislature’s dictates or risk even more funding cuts as long as the current crowd is in power.

But it’s beyond frustrating that these legislators don’t take our local officials’ well-thought-out concerns seriously. We know that our local officials are dedicated to better educational outcomes for all their students.

This current slate of legislators has repeatedly shown that it has nothing but disdain for public education. It has continually cut resources for public schools. Its treatment of North Carolina teachers has sent scores either to other states or out of the profession altogether. It has insisted on transferring tax money from public schools to charter and private schools with a scarcity of oversight.”

Commentary

As reported here this week:

“A Lake Lure charter school suspended all of its extra-curricular clubs last week after controversy erupted over a new club that supports lesbian, gay and transgender students.

The board of directors for Lake Lure Classical Academy, which serves students from kindergarten through high school in Rutherford County community, voted for the temporary suspension of extra-curricular activities Thursday.”

Today, the ACLU of North Carolina called on the school to reverse its decision:

“Lake Lure Classical Academy (LLCA) should promptly rescind its ban on all student-led noncurricular groups, including an LGBTQ+ student organization that was recently formed to promote tolerance and equality for all students, according to a letter sent today by the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NCLF) to school officials.

At its November 12 meeting, the LLCA Board of Directors voted to suspend all student-run clubs after some community members challenged the new LGBTQ+ club. In today’s letter, ACLU-NCLF Legal Director Chris Brook explains that the federal Equal Access Act forbids schools from permitting some student groups while barring others. LLCA has a history of allowing noncurricular students organizations, including a campus Christian organization, Raptors for Christ, that has met on campus for five years.

“The LGBTQ+ club does not seek special treatment,” Brook writes in the letter. “They simply seek to be treated the same as other student groups on campus, a right guaranteed to them by the Equal Access Act.”

Read the entire letter by clicking here.

Commentary

TeachersIn case you missed it, yesterday’s lead editorial in the Fayetteville Observer did a fine job of summing up the continuing war on public school teachers being waged by the state’s political leadership:

After decrying the large teacher shortages that plague school systems across the state and some recent national surveys that put the state at the bottom of the pack for its treatment of teachers (and which also describe a decade-long spiral in North Carolina) , the editorial says this:

“Add to that the legislative dismantling of the state’s teacher-assistant program, lawmakers’ assault on the association that is a weak version of a teachers union, and an attempt to end teachers’ also-flimsy tenure rights, and it’s easy to see why they’re wearing out the exit door.

A pay raise for new teachers, hiking their starting salary to $35,000, may help attract talent to North Carolina schools, but it won’t keep them here for long, because more experienced teachers have made little or no salary headway.

That 10-year trend should be a reminder, too, that the decline in teacher salaries – from around the national median to something approaching the bottom of the barrel – is a bipartisan exercise. It started while Democrats controlled the legislative and executive branches, then was pushed along by the Republicans when they took over.

Our lawmakers can pursue all the educational reform in the world, but it won’t work until we can attract and keep good teachers. We’ll do that when we boost salaries back to the national median.

Let’s be clear: Without a great K-12 education system, most of our other goals are out of reach. And without good, well-paid teachers in our classrooms, our education initiatives will fail.”

Click here to read the entire editorial.