WAKE FOREST, N.C. (WNCN) — Dozens of parents are demanding changes to what they call unfair discipline practices in the Wake County Public School System.
Wake Forest High School student Micah Speed received a 5-day suspension after he knocked another student to the ground. Speed and his classmates said it was a reaction to months of race-related bullying. His initial punishment was for two weeks.
Yolonda Speed said the boy who bullied her son received some sort of disciplinary action after more than 35,000 signed a petition demanding for him to be suspended as well.
On Saturday morning, about 70 people took part in a public forum to discuss discipline in the school and perceived penalty inequality among African-American and white students. Mary Magdalene Ministries hosted the event in partnership with the Raleigh Apex chapter of the NAACP, as part of the Wake Collaborative to Stop Bullying and Youth Violence.
“Today’s purpose was really to get information out for parents who have dealt with this issue and have pretty much been alone, feeling powerless, not knowing what to do, not having a recourse to come to,” Yolanda Speed said.
“I was brought to tears about my own situation with my son, but as I was listening to some of these other parents stories, I’m like ‘Oh my God’,” she said.
“You just don’t have a clue, and that’s why this meeting was necessary for us to hear others’ stories. For us to know that it’s not just happening to one child or two, but it’s widespread.”
WCPSS board member Keith Sutton heard complaints from parents who said teachers and administrators improperly disciplined their children, including incidents involving physical restraint.
Some of the parents said white students do not receive as severe punishment for infractions as African-Americans, and also gave examples of white children receiving other preferential treatment from teachers.
Raleigh City Council member David Cox said he chose to attend the forum due to concerns about issues in schools involving not just race but religion. People gave examples of discrimination against Jewish and Muslim students as well.
“My first reaction is one of sadness to hear some of these stories and to understand that in this day and age, we like to think that we’re moving forward, and when we hear stories like this it reminds us that we still have a long ways to go,” Cox said.
“I wanted to come here partly to set an example that discriminatory behavior, discriminatory language is not acceptable and that we need to be involved as leaders and send a message that we have to do better in order to live with one another in peace with one another.”
Councilman Cox said the only way to get to a resolution is to participate in events like Saturday’s. He said he is hopeful that leaders will put systems and people in place to address issues as soon as they are identified.
Micah Speed’s father, LeBrent Speed said he was pleased to have the council member and school board member in attendance. He traveled from his home in Minnesota to visit his son and take part in the community conversation.
“I wanted to come down here and support his mom, who’s done an excellent job on dealing with the district, but to hear from them about how they’re going to keep my son safe. What they’re going to do long term,” Speed said.
“I believe (Cox and Sutton) are listening. I think there have been enough incidents. I think Micah’s incident and other incidents have caused them to take a look at what they’re doing, take a look at some of the policies and procedures.”
However, Speed’s dad said he is disappointed that he has not been able to get a meeting with WCPSS superintendent James Merrill, with whom he hopes to speak before returning home.
Yolonda Speed on the other hand was not satisfied with Cox and Sutton’s presence on Saturday.
“I don’t know what they’re here for. At the end of the day, I haven’t heard a real solution to the issue, so I don’t know what their purpose was to come,” she said.
“The solutions will come from us, I believe, parents, because what the board is doing is obviously nothing. They haven’t done anything yet.”
LeBrent Speed said it will be the parents and activists who will make a change, by voicing their grievances to school board members and participating in peaceful protests. He said this is an opportunity for healing, as long as people speak their minds clearly and effectively.
He said this is an opportunity for healing, as long as people speak their minds clearly and effectively.