Group won’t ‘sit by any longer’

Photo by Tevin Stinson Action4Ashley supporters Crystal Rooks and Kedrick Easter are shown during a press conference on Tuesday, Aug. 14. The coalition of several community organizations filed a complaint against Winston-Salem/ Forsyth County Schools earlier this week citing discrimination in the handling of the mold situation at Ashley Elementary School.

Group won’t ‘sit by any longer’
August 16
09:58 2018

Action4Ashley files discrimination complaint against WS/FCS

The Action4Ashley Coalition has filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Education citing failure on behalf of the Winston-Salem Forsyth County Board of Education and School System (WSFCS) to address complaints of mold and poor air quality at Ashley Elementary School (Ashley Academy for Cultural & Global Studies).

The Coalition, which consists of several community groups including; the Winston-Salem NAACP, Ministers’ Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity, Coalition for Equality in Public Education, the Local Organizing Committee, Drum Majors Alliance, The Big 4 Alumni Association, and the North Carolina Central University Alumni Association ,was organized earlier this year in response to the growing number of students and staff at Ashley who reported health problems related to the below par conditions of the facility, including mold, water leaks, moisture, and poor air quality.

The complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights on Tuesday, Aug.  14 alleges that the WSFCS violated the Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin. During a press conference earlier this week Rev. Alvin Carlisle, president of the Winston-Salem NAACP said although the coalition was started this year complaints about the conditions at Ashley have been reported for years.

“This is an issue that educators, parents, and community activists have been addressing for many many years. Ashley Elementary is a symptom of a continual disproportionate allocation of funding as it concerns education in Winston-Salem Forsyth County,” said Carlisle during the press conference held at the NAACP headquarters.

“We have chosen not to sit by any longer and allow this violation to go forward so we have connected with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice to file a complaint for violation of the Civil Rights Act.”

To support their allegations of “intentional discrimination” the coalition says in the complaint, “WSFCS’s failure to quickly and fully address the poor facility conditions at Ashley has weighed significantly more on one race than others because Ashley is a racially identifiable school.

“Only 5.8% of Ashley’s student population is White, with the majority of students identifying as Black (59.3%). This is significantly different than the racial make-up of the District as a whole, which is 39.2% White and only 28.4% Black. Therefore, since Ashley enrolls a disproportionate number of Black students, the challenged action bears more heavily on Black and other non-White students.”

Action4Ashley also lists the removal of a “new Ashley” from the 2016 Bond Projects, and the action taken to remove students and staff from Hanes-Lowrance in 2015 following complaints of the air quality in the building as “factual background” in their 14-page complaint.

In response to growing complaints earlier this year, the Board of Education hired two different consulting companies to test the air quality in the facility. After testing was completed by Mid Atlantic Associates, in May the school board voted to replace all HVAC units before the start of the 2018-2019 school year.

Action4Ashley said that isn’t enough.

“We feel that the replacement of the air condition systems at Ashley is an inadequate fix. We feel like it’s only a Band-Aid on a greater problem,” said Carlisle. “Replacement of this building has been the subject of discussion for many years, and continually it has been put on the back-burner.”

When discussing the matter, Attorney Peggy Nicholson, with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice’s Youth Justice Project, said her clients are asking the Office of Civil Rights to require the district to take immediate action to remedy the discrimination, including building a new facility for Ashley as soon as possible.

She continued, “… They have been denied access to a learning environment that promotes their learning the same way it does at other whiter, more affluent schools in the district. Despite cries from the Ashley community and this coalition, the district’s response has been slow and inadequate.

“We believe the involvement from the Office of Civil Rights is necessary to ensure that the district addresses this crisis fully and immediately so that students actually have equal opportunities as their peers in the district.”

With the start of the 2018-2019 school year just a few weeks away, until the new facility is built, Action4Ashley has requested that students and staff who experience or are at risk of experiencing symptoms connected to poor indoor air quality the opportunity to transfer to a different school. The coalition has also requested compensatory education services to students who missed school due to health problems linked to poor air quality.

Over the next 30 to 90 days, the U.S. Department of Education will review the complaint and request additional information if needed. According to Nicholson, if they find that discrimination does exist, there are several different actions that can be taken, including withholding federal financial assistance from the district and also referring the case to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Rev. Paul Ford, pastor of First Baptist Church, 700 N. Highland Avenue, and strong supporter of Action4Ashley, said after multiple attempts to reason with the school board, the reality is sometimes you have to fight and the time is now.

“We’re opening up a multi-front fight to make sure that these students, these teachers, and these administrators are no longer subjected to toxic conditions that impair their ability to teach and impair these students to learn and succeed,” continued Ford. “… Today we’re saying enough is enough and this lawsuit that is being filed today is just another step in that process.”

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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