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Citizens press Wake school board for public records
Published Thursday, January 28, 2016
by Latisha.Catchatoorian

RALEIGH – All Calla Wright wants is public information.

On July 28, 2015, Wright, founder of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens for African-American Children, sent an email to Wake County Public Schools Superintendent Jim Merrill asking for the most recent test data/statistic reports disaggregated by ethnicity and gender to include the following:

  • Out-of-school suspension/expulsion
  • Promotion and retention for elementary, middle and high school
  • Student arrest
  • In-school suspension
  • Class assignment grouping
  • Advanced Placement/Honors class enrollment
  • International Baccalaureate enrollment
  • Re-directional school enrollment
  • EOC/EOG reports according to subject area and individual schools to include alternative and re-directional schools

Wright then sent a follow-up email to Merrill and board member Christine Kushner in September 2015 saying that her initial request was ignored, and under North Carolina Public Records Law (G.S. 132-1) the information is open public records.

Tim Simmons, the WCPSS chief communications officer, responded and wrote they were in the process of gathering the information.

About a month later, Simmons sent Wright a lengthy email providing much of the information she requested, saying the school system was reviewing “one large data set that will be responsive to several parts of your request but which must be appropriately redacted to prevent inadvertent disclosures of information about individual students by means of deduction.”

Simmons also said Wright’s requests became “narrower” over time and the communications department elected to interpret her requests broadly on the assumptions that she intended “ethnicity” to encompass not just ethnicity, per se, but also race, and was interested in the most recent data, disaggregated by race/ethnicity and gender.

The correspondence continued in November and December, with Wright asking for a public meeting in which WCPSS could present the academic performance data of all students. She said the community needed to determine if black and brown students have made growth during the current school board’s leadership. Simmons said he would ask administrators about addressing CCCAAC’s “broader question.”

Marvin Connelly Jr., chief of staff and strategic planning for WCPSS, emailed Wright earlier this month that said he was willing to present the “Student Arrest Data” after the next school board meeting, and believed the district had provided the other information requested.

Wright said that although she received some of the information she requested, she still has not received several reports, including the in-school-suspension report, re-directional school enrollment test score data, student arrest data, updates on the retention report and the latest suspension data report for 2014-15.

“There are components of that request that haven’t been submitted. That’s to determine the effectiveness in our democratic board leadership and addressing the achievement gap,” Wright said. “Retention issues are a big issue. We wanted to know how many black kids were retained. You need to look at those alternative schools to see all the black kids who are being warehoused.”

At alternative schools like River Oaks Middle School, 24 black students make up the 50-student enrollment. At Mary E. Phillips High School, 112 of the 160 students are black. Wright said test scores at these schools are not comparable to other traditional schools.

The CCCAAC is also concerned over information like data from the 2013-14 Suspension Data Report. Black males accounted for 4,853 short-term suspensions that year, while white males accounted for 1,635. Even black females were suspended more than white males, with 1,900 short-term suspensions in that category for the same year. White females were suspended 396 times.

WCPSS chair Tom Benton told Wright (via email) that she “received a detailed response to (her) request from Tim Simmons on October 14, 2015. Sorry your perception of our actions is so negative.”

Benton told The Tribune that his response was in reference to an email Wright wrote in January, which said:

“I want to add that this current WCPSS BOE and the superintendent along with the current administration have been the most difficult to work with in terms of getting responses to our concerns and issues. The former BOE members and the superintendents were always involved in the community and would address all parents' issues, and concerns would not be ignored. We need leaders and elected officials who will keep their political commitments to our community.”

“It (his statement about negativity) was not about (her) requesting data,” Benton said.

Wright feels the board thinks she’s being “negative” for asking for data and said that makes her question the board. “Not addressing the issues makes me question (them). Are they trying to hide the issues?,” she said.

Community activist Octavia Rainey urged Benton and the board to set up a meeting with Wright.

Rainey said she thought Benton’s comments were “rude and disrespectful.”

“That’s his role as a public elected official to respond without his personal opinion. All she was asking for was a public record request,” Rainey said. “Her organization is about black children in the public school system. To be disrespectful and try to criminalize her is an outrage. That is a democratic Wake County education school board.”

Merrill has not met with CCCAAC or been involved in the communication between both parties.

“I feel like this school board and Dr. Merrill has not embraced our community as other (previous) superintendents (have in the past). He hasn’t come out since he’s been superintendent, and that’s concerning to us as parents,” Wright said.



January 22, 2015 Community Talk
Parents, Concerned Citizens, Students and
Community & Educational Advocates

What: “Community Conversation on Race and its Impact on Academic & Discipline Issues in WCPSS” – Part 2 -* Community Talk

When: January 22, 2015

TIME: 6:00-8:00 p.m.

Where: North Carolina Justice Center, 224 South Dawson Street, Raleigh, NC

Please join us for a Community Talk forum where parents, students, educational leaders, community advocates, as well as board of education members will discuss issues focusing on academic and discipline issues impacting minority students who attend Wake County Public Schools. We need your input and expertise to decide what additional measures in our educational system will best serve students and families. It is important to have a conversation focusing on discipline and academic issues that impact minority children, including those with IEP’s or 504 Plans. Please come and share your concerns and experiences. This event is FREE. The community will discuss the following topics in this initial forum:

*Suspensions (including in school, short term and long term)


*Student Arrests

*Student Non Compliance


Your input is needed to help keep our children in school. Please come out and be a part of the “Community Conversation” - Part 2* Forum. The event is sponsored by: Education Justice Alliance, NAACP-NC, Concerned Citizens for African American Children, NC HEAT

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