Many people are talking about the explosive report delivered by The UNC Center for Civil Rights Monday morning that directly put the public education of Halifax County in its cross hairs.
In essence, the report says by maintaining three separate school districts (Halifax County Schools, Weldon City Schools and Roanoke Rapids Graded School District), Halifax County is violating the constitutional rights of students and undermining the quality of education available in the county.
A mountain of evidence over 18 months was collected and bound in the report titled “Unless Our Children Begin to Learn Together ...”
The bound report is 65 pages long with numerous charts. Heck, the printed executive summary is six pages long with at least 4,000 words of facts, conclusions, judgments and suggestions.
I’ve read the whole thing cover to cover, and I’m still digesting everything presented. Like with anything that deals with a subject matter so crucial (the future of our region’s education), I’m going to have to read this report again before I form any strong opinions on it.
However, I do encourage anyone who wants to read the report to download it at www.law.unc.edu/centers/civilrights.
One thing painfully obvious since the report’s unveiling three days ago is the trepidation displayed by elected leaders in Halifax County when addressing their thoughts on the report’s message.
Although long and detailed, the report is clear in its stance: Halifax County public education should fold into one school district. There are plenty of reasons given for that conclusion, but no one can argue that is the report’s conclusion. Finding one of our elected leaders to take a stand either for or against that idea is a lot more complicated.
Of all the municipalities in Halifax County, only mayors from Weldon and Scotland Neck attended Monday’s press conference.
State Rep. Angela Bryant, D-Rocky Mount, and state Sen. Ed Jones, D-Enfield, each spoke Monday, giving guarded comments on the issue — neither offering a firm statement for or against school district consolidation.
Bryant was up front with just how much of a political land mine this issue is. She told the crowd that when she first sought office, many people told her “if you are going to talk about anything, don’t talk about the school systems. So, I’m here at my own peril.”
It’s pretty obvious we have a political elephant in the room when a multi-term state representative openly admits by simply participating in a press conference that her political future was in “peril.”
Members of the NAACP, The Committee to Save Education in Halifax County and the UNC Center for Civil Rights promised to hold a series of town hall forums across Halifax County this summer to talk about the issue.
It is at those forums where the voices of the people and our community leaders will get their chance to be heard.
The idea of consolidating school districts is nothing new in Halifax County. With the release of this report, what might be new is the need for our elected leaders to firmly take a stand for or against it.
In North Carolina, there are four options for voluntary unification of city and county school districts.
Local boards of education within the same county could submit a plan for consolidation, county commissioners could submit a plan of consolidation, a city school district could voluntarily dissolve or the General Assembly can merge school administrative units.
If our three school districts were going to voluntarily merge, it would have happened already. And, there is no way the Roanoke Rapids Graded School District is dissolving anytime soon so if this were to ever happen, it would take the premeditated action of either the Halifax County Board of Commissioners or the General Assembly.
I don’t see members of either of those bodies jumping out in front of this issue. So for at least another summer, thanks to the UNC Center for Civil Rights, this little elephant in the room will stay right where it is.
Managing Editor Stephen Hemelt can be reached at 252-537-2505 ext. 233. or on the web at email@example.com.