North students, community members meet ahead of Friday forum

By Charles Curcio and Chris Miller

Stanly County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jarrod Dennis took to Facebook late Thursday with a message to North Stanly High School families.
It was to alert students and parents that the school would go virtual for Friday and that a community forum would be held at 1:30 p.m. in the school auditorium.
The forum comes during a week which included students speaking out about what they consider inequality after a video was shared on SnapChat and Facebook of two students singing a song that contained a racial epithet.

The three-second video shows two white females singing the lyrics to “Alabama (expletive),” a song by Clifford Trahan, also known as Johnny Rebel, a singer cited by NPR as having been a “white supremacist musician.”

As a way of making their voices heard, about 30 students took part in a brief walkout before lunch Tuesday in the North parking lot.

The students first informed school staff, who “assisted them to make sure that they were safe out there in the parking lot and then they all came back in for lunch,” said Hope Miller-Drye, administrative and school board assistant for Stanly County Schools.

North parent Vonisha Gramling was at a 90-minute meeting she said featured about 40 individuals, both white and Black students. She noted one white student organized the walkout and spoke at the meeting about how upset he was for his Black classmates.

“I literally had to put my head down to catch my own tears,” Gramling said. “To see these kids literally broken and crying, it just pulls at your heart.”

Dennis noted the safety of students and staff remains the school system’s top priority, adding the district “will not tolerate any speech or actions that demean students or staff and remain committed to creating an environment that is safe and inclusive for all students.”

On Thursday, North students participated in a protest around lunch over what they feel is continued inadequate treatment of Black and other minority students.

With emphatic chants of “We want equality,” a group of at least 50 students, the majority of them Black, gathered outside in the student parking lot.

School officials met with the students prior to the protest to hear about their grievances, Dennis said.

Reporters with the Stanly News & Press later met with around 20 students Thursday at New London Park to learn more about why they felt the need to protest. A few parents and local ministers were also in attendance. Students spoke about how, in their mind, the school has continuously failed to stick up for them.

Several students said they do not feel safe at school and do not feel teachers or school administration have their back, especially when compared to their white counterparts.

Students cited a lack of minority teachers and staff at the school, saying this makes it harder to relate to students of color and their experiences.

Wendy Wimbush, an ordained elder and former youth pastor whose child attends North, said she is concerned that she did “not know enough information about what’s going on. I feel like there could be a lot better communication to help us understand what steps are being taken.”

Wimbush said there should be “equity in discipline,” adding, “if somebody is able to use the N-word and not get discipline…but there’s somebody in school (who) uses profanity and gets suspended, there is an inequity there.”

“I feel the community needs to come together and have a reckoning. Everyone else in the world is having a race reckoning. Stanly County is not above it. We need to have that same conversation, that communication,” Wimbush said.

Sheriff Jeff Crisco and deputies were at North Thursday. He said when he arrived on the scene, the students thought they were going to be arrested.

“(We) got everybody back together and (I) tried my very best to explain to them, ‘This is your one freebee,’ ” Crisco said.

The sheriff said he told the students that protesting on school grounds violates school policy.

“Whether it’s peaceful or violent, you can’t protest,” Crisco said, referring to a protest on school property.

He said the students were disrupting school business, which technically was against the law. He said no charges were filed against any student for participating in the protest.

When asked about the implications of the protests, Dennis said “students were simply made aware of the student code of conduct concerning disruptive behavior, and that we must maintain an environment that is safe for all students and staff at all times.”