North Stanly community meets with SCS staff on next steps in addressing student concerns

Published 11:29 am Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Students, parents and other concerned citizens let their voices be heard on a variety of topics, including the formation of a diversity task force, during a community meeting Monday evening at North Stanly High School.

The meeting was a follow-up to one at the school on March 18, following the disclosure of a racially insensitive video that was first first posted on Snapchat and has since resurfaced on Facebook. Many North Stanly students, especially people of color, have expressed safety concerns and have led several walkouts following the video going public.

To help address students’ concerns, a multi-pronged action plan was presented at the March 18 meeting which included hiring more diversity in teachers and staff, providing cultural and diversity sensitivity training to teachers and students and reinforcing the student outlet to report concerns via the Say Something app.

The May 2 meeting was designed to get the community’s help in addressing another part of the action plan. Those in attendance were asked to complete an online questionnaire about how best to ensure “top-down, transparent, accountability” would be implemented.

Specifically, they were asked about four topics — application of rules for students and adults concerning cellphone policies, regular communication with parents, teachers and the community, increased community involvement and providing assistance to parents who may struggle with their students’ academics — and how these could be addressed going forward.

People provided a variety of responses — all anonymous — to each topic including “having consistent expectations for all teachers” regarding cellphone policies and establishing “Parent-Teacher Groups that serve as guides for understanding the current SCS system” regarding increased community involvement. The questionnaire will be open to the public through Friday.

“This is helping to inform us on the path forward as to what the expectations of the community are moving forward,” Assistant Superintendent Dr. Amy Blake-Lewis said.

Establishing a diversity task force

The school district also wants to form a diversity task force at North comprised of about a dozen people including students, teachers, parents and other community members residing in the North district.

An online survey is being distributed to people directly connected to North asking them if they would want to be a member of the diversity task force. If interested, they could help with hosting and planning topics for community meetings, serving in a Community Leader Mentor Group, speaking with students/staff during lunch breaks and being available during sporting/cultural events to speak with students.

“If you want to be part of the task force, this means that you want to actually have an active role in working with the administration and staff at North Stanly High School to address concerns around diversity and inclusion,” Blake-Lewis said.

Even though the task force is just for the North Stanly community, there was discussion among speakers about creating additional task forces to address issues and concerns at other schools in the district. The plan is to have the task force operational by the start of the next school year.

“The North Stanly community asked us to come out and do this,” Superintendent Jarrod Dennis said. “If any other community sees the need and wants us to come out, then we would gladly go through the process of helping them.”

Some of the speakers fielded complaints about the language used to describe the task force, specifically the word “diversity.” Many instead thought it could be replaced with “community.” Since “diversity” was the word mentioned the most by students during the March 18 meeting, it was best to keep it, school officials said.

“Diversity is not a bad word, it is absolutely something that has to do with change,” said Brian Johnson, pastor at Perfecting Life Global Ministries.

Much of the discussion seemed to be centered on adults’ concerns, but towards the end, the focus shifted to what would be best for the students.

Principal Julienne Fallen said her students are worried their concerns will be forgotten in the coming weeks and months.

“When it hits its peak, we talk about it and then it dies down,” she said.

Fallen also mentioned that for the students, diversity is an all-encompassing word that goes beyond race to include making sure everyone — regardless of ethnicity, religious preference, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. — feels heard and represented.

“Everybody in here should feel like they belong,” Fallen said.

School Board Chair Glenda Gibson emphasized that everything that was being discussed, including the task force, should be focused on the student’s needs.

“What are they experiencing?” she said. “And you know what, our children will solve the problem if we give them the tools.”

Anyone interested in serving on the task force can contact Julienne Fallen for more information.

Students feel concerns are still not being properly addressed 

Of the estimated 30 people in the audience, only three were North Stanly students and they rarely spoke during the meeting.

Afterwards, students Junior Hill, Tsion Steele and Giavonna Dunlap explained that many of their worries about not feeling safe at school have largely gone unaddressed.

When asked if he felt safer at the school now then he did a month ago, when the fallout over the video first occurred, Hill said “no.”

“They’re saying stuff that you want to hear, but they’re not really making any actions on it,” Steele said, noting that whenever students raise issues with administration, “they only listen for that day or that week” before it goes away.

All three students — who said they wanted to be part of the task force — said the administration needed to be more proactive in addressing students’ concerns, instead of responding only when issues are brought to their attention.

Hill said he did not feel more confident after the meeting because so few of his classmates showed up to make their voices heard. He said he thought the meeting was publicized more for parents than it was for students.

Dunlap mentioned the community meeting could have been announced Monday morning during the daily news broadcast, which would likely have resulted in more students showing up.

“I want to see more students here, I want to see more students’ voices being heard,” said Hill.

He added that even though many adults during the meeting mentioned the importance of hearing from students, “we don’t actually get the opportunity to be heard.”

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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