HALIFAX — Leaders in favor of consolidating Halifax County’s three existing school systems lamented the lack of action as the second anniversary of a study urging such a merger came and went Thursday.
The Committee to Save Education in Halifax County and the Coalition for Education and Economic Security marked the anniversary of the study, “Unless Our Children Begin to Learn Together ... the state of education in Halifax County” on the lawn of the courthouse in Historic Halifax by wondering aloud why no action has been taken since the study was released by the University of North Carolina Center for Civil Rights.
“Remember the reactions,” said Gary Grant, executive director of Concerned Citizens of Tillery and a vocal supporter of consolidation. “Some of us cheered that a new authenticated light was shining on a decades-old problem. Many of us here today took hope that the reality of racism in our schools in Halifax County might finally be confronted.
“But other, powerful voices soon denounced the study.”
Those powerful voices, said Halifax County NAACP President David Harvey, included Halifax County Commissioners Vernon Bryant and J. Rives Manning Jr., and Harvey urged attendees to mark the anniversary by going to the polls to oppose Manning and Bryant’s reelection based on this issue, but also to take special care in thinking about which candidates to support with their future votes.
“The people in this county need to start thinking about the people we elect,” Harvey said. “You can’t just pick people who look like you and are kissing your grandchildren in church. Learn about these people before you give them your vote.”
Manning said Harvey’s advocacy of school consolidation comes from a position of inaccuracy, pointing out specifically the lines delineating the Roanoke Rapids Graded School District have not been changed since the district was founded in the early 1900s.
Manning said he would welcome Harvey’s presence in the political arena.
“If he wants to run for county commissioner, I strongly suggest he puts his money where his mouth is and, when the filing deadline comes, he files for commissioner himself,” Manning said. “That would be a good challenge. Let’s see what the people of Halifax County want.”
Bryant agreed with Manning concerning Harvey’s candidacy.
“Elections filings begin February 2014,” Bryant said. “If Mr. David Harvey believes he can serve the citizens of Halifax County better than myself, then I encourage him to file as a candidate for the Board of Commissioners for Halifax County.”
With the study urging consolidation now two years old and the Halifax County Board of Commissioners having paid for another study by Evergreen Solutions, Harvey said systemic racism was to blame for the lack of action, and he said local civil rights leaders are considering their own version of Moral Mondays to protest against the commissioners until the issue is addressed.
Recent Northwest Halifax High School graduate Trequan McGee chided county leaders for not taking the UNC study seriously.
“This report opened my eyes to the many injustices occurring every single day,” McGee said. “The part that moved me the most is that the UNC Center for Civil Rights took it upon themselves to do this report and the county commissioners had the audacity to say that the report was flawed.”
McGee urged commissioners, who have the power to merge the school systems with a majority board vote, to consider the economic impact of the low quality of education available for Halifax County Schools students, something Coalition Chairwoman Rebecca Copeland also touched upon in her remarks.
“Without quality education there is no economic development in Halifax County,” Copeland said. “We are not a desirable county. If we will not change things for conscience’s sake, we must change things for economy’s sake.”
The Rev. O.D. Sykes, of Swift Creek and Springfield Missionary Baptist churches, said school consolidation may be about many things, but principal among these is unity.
“The students in Halifax County Schools are just as smart as the students in the Roanoke Rapids Graded School District,” Sykes said. “They are just as smart as the students in Weldon City Schools. If we can shop at Walmart together, if we can pay the same taxes, if we can walk together, then surely, we can educate our children together.”
Halifax resident and retired Veterans Administration employee Sam Solomon said he believes school consolidation is inevitable in the county and feels county leaders should have already acted on the issue.
“I believe we’ve gone too long unequal,” Solomon said. “Now it’s time to stop handouts to special interests and spread it out to people who deserve it and need it.”