U.S. Department of Education opens claim against WS/FCS

The U.S. Department of Education has agreed to look into the claim filed by Action4Equity against the Winston-Salem Forsyth County School System.

U.S. Department of Education opens claim against WS/FCS
January 10
09:03 2019

Less than six months after the complaint was filed by the Action4Equity Coalition, citing failure on behalf of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School System to address complaints about issues at Ashley Elementary, the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education has agreed to look into the claim.

A coalition of organizations including the local branch of the NAACP, the Ministers’ Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity, the Coalition for Equity in Public Education and several others, Action4Equity was formed in response to the local school system and board of education’s handling of reports of mold in the school causing health issues for students, faculty, and staff.

The claim argues that WS/FCS violated Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin. To support their claim, the coalition, which is represented by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice’s Youth Justice Project, brought up the fact that the board voted to remove students from Hanes Lowrence, a predominately white school, in 2015 after complaints of poor air quality, even though tests showed it didn’t cause any health issues.

Rev. Alvin Carlisle, president of the NAACP, has said Ashley is a symptom of a continued underfunding and disproportionate allocation of funds.

“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,” Carlisle said.

Although two separate tests showed the mold levels at the school were not enough to endanger anyone, the Board of Education voted to spend more than $1 million to replace all the HVAC units at the school. Action4Equity argues that mold has been present in the school for nearly a decade and the board used “intentional discrimination” in their handling of the situation.

In a letter from the U.S. Department of Education, Letisha Morgan said the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) will serve as a neutral fact-finder ensuring that the investigation is legally sufficient and fully responds to the complaint filed by Action4Equity.

Morgan wrote, “Because OCR determined that it has jurisdiction and that the complaint was timely filed, OCR is opening the complaint for investigation. Please note that opening the complaint for investigation in no way implies that OCR has made a determination on the merits of the complaint.

“During the investigation, OCR is a neutral fact-finder, collecting and analyzing relevant evidence from you, the District, and other sources, as appropriate.”

Action4Equity has a list of things they would like to see happen including the construction of a new Ashley, allow students and teachers to transfer to other schools until the new school is built, and provide compensatory education services to students who missed school due to health issues related to mold and air quality.

During a recent Board of Education meeting, representatives for Action4Equity held a press conference to let the public know that they plan to hold the Board of Education accountable for the decisions. Kellie P. Easton, who is the coordinator for Action4Equity, said they are excited about what the newly elected board can bring to the students, staff, teachers and families of Forsyth County and intends to ensure they do what’s right for all the students in the district.

“The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School lists equity as one of its core values for every student to succeed,” continued Easton. “… We seek to hold the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School System to its core value and tonight we ask the question: has the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School System honored diversity by addressing barriers to success for every student?

“While this hasn’t been proven tonight, we are very optimistic that in the days to come, it will.”

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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