Mandatory African American History course receives only one vote

The Board of Education meeting held on Tuesday, Oct. 22, was filled with residents who support a mandatory African American history course. The motion to approve the course failed 7-1.

Mandatory African American History course receives only one vote
October 24
05:21 2019

After listening to the cries from the community for nearly four years and listening to nearly 30 different individuals call for a mandatory African American History course during the Board of Education meeting earlier this week, the board voted 7-1 not to make the course a requirement, but unanimously approved a list of recommendations made by Superintendent Angela P. Hairston that included the expansion of ethnic studies in the K-8 curriculum.

Since 2016, several local organizations have been urging the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education to make African American History a course requirement for high school graduation. The initial push for the course was led by Ken Rasheed and members of the Local Organizing Committee (LOC). After initial discussions with district administrators, Rasheed said they never received any updates.

Earlier this year, Barbara Hanes Burke, board vice chair, and Curriculum Committee chairperson, announced that the board had discussed the course, but new courses for high schools wouldn’t be discussed until October and they would revisit the matter at that time.

Staying true to her word, during the Curriculum Committee meeting on Oct. 15, the process to implement new high school courses was discussed and the committee voted to approve a motion for a mandatory African American History course, which sent the motion to the full board for a vote.

On the day the board was scheduled to vote, dozens of people showed up to show their support for the African American History course. For nearly an hour during the public comment portion of the meeting, people from all walks of life made their plea to the board.

“Some may ask why a mandatory black history class; I think that’s already been answered in previous board meetings. I would only add a broader context with the national discourse currently going on in America,” said Effrainguan Muhammad, a member of the LOC, while addressing the board.

“See, there’s a direct connection between the thinking in the White House and the Winston-Salem School System and Winston-Salem city itself. It was just last year that several white students at Reagan High School made a viral video on Snapchat yelling the words ‘nigga, nigga nigga.’ Why black history? Right on this board, one of your former colleagues who you all had lunch with, attended conferences with, voted with, and exchanged text messages with, referred to a black man with a Ph.D. as ‘Mushmouth.’ Why do we need a mandatory black history class? For the same reasons that despite having the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments infused into the Constitution, we still need a Voting Rights Act decades later making it mandatory.”

Muhammad continued, “Everyone in this room tonight, whether black, Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, East Indian or Arab, owes our very genetic existence to Black History. Logistics aside, I think a mandatory Black History class, along with infusion, should be a foregone conclusion, but that is to be determined by you.”

Although the mandatory history course was listed as an action item during the meeting, the course wasn’t listed as a discussion item. However, Superintendent Dr. Angela P. Hairston did discuss a list of recommendations to strengthen African American Studies that has been available in local schools since the 1990s.

Hairston said after surveying more than 2,000 students and doing research on the district and others throughout the country who have tried to implement a mandatory African American History course, she felt continuing the infusion program and expanding ethnic studies would be the best way to go.

“Acknowledging the benefits of ethnic studies is great, it’s tremendous that we are able to even engage in this conversation, but I’m recommending that we continue to support and strengthen an integrated approach,” Hairston continued.

Dr. Hairston’s list of recommendations include;
1. Continue the infusion project with an accountability measure that includes, but is not limited to, adding questions to the quarterly check-ins;
2. Continue to seek opportunities for the Freedom School projects;
3. Monitor the process of standards development through DPI to ensure multicultural perspectives are present K-12;
4. Establish an African American Studies advisory committee to meet twice per year to review the status of standards, enrollment in elective courses and ensure continued communication;
5. Offer the following courses in every high school: Africa American Studies, Latin American Studies, American Indian Studies, and Ethnic Literature;
6. Propose that each course is worth one credit and has standard and honors course options;
7. Work with High School Guidance Counselors to improve communication and marketing for the above courses.

After making the motion to approve the mandatory African American History course, Burke let it be known that the people who have been pushing for the course for nearly four years didn’t ask for recommendations. She said, “We heard from them tonight. And we heard that they made a request for a mandatory African American course.

“They did not ask for a recommendation, they did not ask for an option. They asked for a mandatory African American course. I want to say I support the seven recommendations that the superintendent has, but I want to be clear, this is not an either-or. This is not you choose one and the other will die. I want to make it very clear, we already have infusion. What we have inserted is confusion,” Burke said. “They both can co-exist and I have said since the beginning that I support the mandatory African American course and I am saying it again tonight and I am ready to vote. “

Malishai Woodbury, chair of the school board, agreed that having the mandatory course and the recommendations on the same agenda is confusing, but argued that the public shouldn’t leave believing that this is the same plan that is already in place. She also noted that the district currently doesn’t have the budget to support a new mandatory course.

“I would argue that the infusion recommendation of the superintendent is a continuation of what has been done with some additions. We should not say that it’s the exact same infusion program, because before there was no Freedom School. There was no committee to monitor the African American Studies courses and any other ethic studies that are going on in our schools,” Woodbury said. “The superintendent has said to us, ‘Listen, I don’t have a budget for another mandatory course. I don’t know the data that would support it. So as the leader of your district, I need you to allow me the time to figure out the data behind something that is going to impact our children greatly. Because mandatory means if a black kid doesn’t pass the course, God forbid, they will not graduate.’

“As governing agents again, I would ask that our board listens to what our superintendent is suggesting to us, which is why all nine of us raised our hand to support her to come and lead this school district.”

When Burke was the only board member to raise her hand in support of the mandatory African American History course, the room seemed to deflate as members of the LOC and Hate Out of Winston made their way toward the exit. The board voted unanimously to approve Dr. Hairston’s recommendations. Board member Marilyn Parker was not in attendance during the meeting and did not vote.

As the final verdict was made on the mandatory course, Ken Rasheed shouted from the back of the room, “It’s been four years!”

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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