Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Concerned Citizens Takes It On The Road

Bluefield2, originally uploaded by PEDRO_.

Concerned Citizens of Durham is taking it on the road. We have been asked by several community groups to come to their neighborhood and talk to parents about problems their kids are having with DPS. Our first community meeting is Thursday, March 31st at the Bluefield Community Center. Bluefield is located near the intersection of E. Club and Roxboro Road just down the road from the Time Warner Cable officesl. The meeting is at 6:00 pm.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005



VICTORY!!! Brown vs Board of Education Wins Again!!!

The courtroom was packed. About 30 supporters on Minnie’s side of the aisle and about 10-15 on the other. Most of the folks on the other side of the aisle were actually witnesses and not supporters as such.

If you know anything about trials you know that both sides have to lay out their cases in excruciating detail. It was a little surreal to sit there all morning and into the afternoon. All I could think about, at times, was what a waste of money this all was. I don’t know exactly how much it costs to put on a trial like this but it can’t be cheap. The judge, the prosecutor, the courtroom time, the private investigator, the lights, the heat, all of it costs money. And for what? To indulge a vindictive and clearly paranoid woman like Ms. Fairley as she carries on her vendetta against Minnie Brown. The Superintendent should have stepped in and made this whole thing just go away. Ms. Fairley is clearly out of control and it is beyond me as to why the Durham Public Schools would squander what little trust they have with the public, not to mention tax dollars, defending her.

It was clear to everyone present that Ms. Fairley had Ms. Brown arrested in retaliation for the calls that were being made then, and now, that Ms. Fairly resign. The Concerned Citizens of Durham are calling for Ms. Fairley’s resignation because of a series of events where she has unfairly and in a prejudicial manner targeted black students (mostly male) for harsher punishment than is meted out to non-black students. The details of those accusations have been spelled out to the Durham School Board many times and yet they refuse to act. Instead, the School Board’s response is to eliminate the Open Public Comment period at the monthly School Board meeting. But that is a fight for another (not very distant) day. Today we celebrate that justice was done and that Ms. Fairley has been put on notice that she can no longer run roughshod over the rights of students and parents. She will be called to account for her actions very soon.



The decision by Judge Allan on March 23rd to find Shepard School parent Minnie Brown not guilty on charges of second degree trespassing was the right one. That this situation ever landed in court was a waste of everyone’s time and of scarce tax dollars. Principal Julia Fairley was clearly retaliating against Ms. Brown for her activities with Concerned Citizens of Durham; a group that had been loudly picketing her school and calling for her to be fired. Principal Fairley just couldn’t stomach the fact that Ms. Brown, someone who had just the week before filed Civil Rights violation charges against Fairley, was openly walking through “her” school. Having her arrested was an attempt to control Ms. Brown’s movements. Had Ms. Brown actually left the school she would surely have received a letter from Ms. Fairley, as have scores of other parents, banning her from school property without prior permission which is exactly what happened anyway. It appears that Ms. Brown is not the only parent that Ms. Fairley has come into conflict with. In the weeks and months to come a pattern of abuse and harassment of parents and students on Ms. Fairley’s part will, no doubt, become clearer.

On another front; The Durham School Board has gone ahead and officially banned Open Public Comment. No matter what the “Gang of Four” (as they have come to be known) tell the public this ban is a blow to our free speech rights. The claim is that there are opportunities to have your voice heard if you attend any or all of the other sub-committees that have been set up. The problem is that the very nature of a sub-committee is that not all of the board members attend. So, there is now no chance whatsoever for the public to bring any non-approved item up in front of the entire board. Citizens should have at least a half hour a month to directly address our elected officials as a body and about any topic. I may have voted for some board members and not others. Some board members may agree with me more than others. Without being able to address the entire board the public is denied the opportunity to tell “their” elected official, the one that agrees with them, whatever it is they want to say.

There are parts to this “ban” that squeeze our free speech rights even further. One provision is that in order to be heard at all a citizen must present his/her item to a three panel board consisting of the Chair, the Vice Chair, and the Superintendent. Two of these folks must approve the item for it to be placed on the agenda. So, a
”gatekeeper” system is in place. Whatever the “gatekeepers” want or don’t want to talk about, that is what makes it onto the agenda. Then, and this is the real kicker; then the public is only allowed to talk about two items on any given agenda.

I can very easily imagine a scenario that goes something like this:

Joe Blow is miffed because his son isn’t getting the help the boy needs with reading. The boy is falling behind and Joe is worried. Joe goes to the teacher and the teacher meets with Joe and the Principal. Both the teacher and the Principal assure Joe that Little Joey is getting the help he needs. But Little Joey fails the EOG test and Joe is convinced that his boy isn’t getting the help he needs and that the school is obligated to give him. So, he calls down to the Superintendent’s office. The Superintendent refers him back to the teacher and the Principal. But Joe has been stonewalled at the school level. Now the Superintendent won’t help him. What else can he do? “I know” Joe says. “I’ll take my case to the School Board. They’re my elected officials. They have to help me, right?” Well, maybe.

So, Joe goes to put his item on the School Board agenda but someone on that three-member board thinks it is a school level problem and not a School Board problem and it doesn’t make it on the agenda. So, what does Joe do? Maybe he tries again at the school level and gets no relief. Maybe he goes to a committee meeting but “his” board member isn’t on any of the committees and they also send him back to the school level.

Meanwhile, little Joey is falling further and further behind. So, Joe pays a lot of money to send him to Sylvan learning center and the boy’s grades improve.

What has happened in this scenario? The School Board has created a committed opponent when if they had simply picked up the phone and called the Principal to see what was going on they could have made an ally out of him.

What’s disturbing is that this is a scenario that happens frequently even without this new gag order. It will only increase if these policies are allowed to stand. And, as they say, it is the children who suffer.



Ann D.

Ann D., originally uploaded by PEDRO_.

Without her staff to field uncomfortable questions Ann was left to fend for herself. Ann is a quick study. She won't come to another open public event like this without her flunkies.


The Ballad of Durham Public Schools
(To the tune of “Yankee Doodle”)
By The Bull City Bard

DPS went round and round
Exposed by what was phony;
They argued long into the night
With faces oh so stoney

DPS, oh what to do
DPS, vote fairly
Mind the children and the rules
And treat the public squarely

Gail and Heidi brought if forth
A document deceptive;
They rushed it to a final vote
Regina disrespected

DPS, oh what to do
DPS, vote fairly
Mind the children and the rules
And treat the public squarely

Jackie tried to keep it real
To get the vote rescinded;
The Steves – they tried to crack the whip
Their actions they defended

DPS, oh what to do
DPS, vote fairly
Mind the children and the rules
And treat the public squarely

Minnie wavered back and forth
Unsure of her position;
She peddled backwards all the while
Oh what a contradiction!

DPS, oh what to do
DPS, vote fairly
Mind the children and the rules
And treat the public squarely

Ann, she sat without a word
So smug and in no hurry;
She dumped her problems on the board
Of course she has no worry

DPS, oh what to do
DPS, vote fairly
Mind the children and the rules
And treat the public squarely

DPS, you’re quite a group
Divided and conflicted;
Preserve the 4-3 at all costs
Durham’s growth restricted

DPS, oh what to do
DPS, vote fairly
Mind the children and the rules
And treat the public squarely

Angry Parent

Angry Parent, originally uploaded by PEDRO_.

This parent (who was not a member of Concerned Citizens of Durham at the time) asked the Superintendent some hard questions. Her concern was for her son who has not received the help he needs to improve his reading skills. This parent was told by a teacher not to bother him with her son's problems any more. Sound familiar?

These parents waited patiently to be called on to speak at the Education Forum at NCCU last Saturday. The Superintendent's response to most of them was "Give us your information and we'll get back to you". I wouldn't hold my breath.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Schewel & Carter

Schewel & Carter
Originally uploaded by PEDRO_.

This was the scene last Thursday night at the Durham School Board meeting. Board members Schewel and Carter slipped out the side door under escort. The GANG OF FOUR delivered the final blow against our free speech rights when they eliminated Open Public Comment from the School Board meetings.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Gail Heath, Chair of the Durham School Board

Originally uploaded by PEDRO_.

Gail Heath has proven herself incapable of handling the job of Chair of the Durham School Board. She frequently is at a loss as to how to manage the meeting and often relies on Board Member Steve Martin to run the meeting for her. Please call Ms. Heath and ask her to resign as Chair and relinquish the position to the Vice Chair, Regina George-Bowden.

It has become clear in recent weeks that the Chair of the Durham School Board, Gail Heath, is simply not up to the job. At the March 9th special meeting of the School Board Ms. Heath all but relinquished the Chair to Board Member Steve Martin. Time and time again Mr. Martin called for a “point of order” and proceeded, oblivious to the fact that he was usurping the role of Chair, to lecture the School Board and assembled members of the public on proper procedures for the meeting under Robert’s Rules of Order. Ms. Heath sat looking bewildered for many minutes and only feebly attempted to regain her proper role as Chair once Mr. Martin finished by lightly pounding the gavel and calling the meeting to order.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas of last year Ms. Heath was reported to have been recuperating at her mother’s home in Tennessee. She had, it was said, undergone surgery for an inflamed gall bladder. To many observers however, it appears that it is just as likely that she suffers from a much more debilitating illness than a gall bladder attack. Ms. Heath’s general appearance and her demeanor appear to have become more morose, timid, and distracted since her return from the mountains. Whatever the nature of Ms. Heath’s health problems the result has been a weakened and ineffectual leader for this School Board.

This is not the time for this community to coddle our leaders. Our children are suffering under the burden of an oppressive system that shows little sign of repairing it’s own deficiencies. We cannot allow the fast dwindling public trust in this board to be further eroded by a Chair who, through no fault of her own, is plainly no longer able to continue to be effective in her role. The proper thing for Ms. Heath to do at this juncture is to relinquish the Chair to the Vice-Chair and serve, as best she can, as a regular member of the board.

Durham School Board Eliminates Open Public Comment!

The Superintendent
Originally uploaded by PEDRO_.
This was the scene last Thursday night after the Durham School Board voted to eliminate Open Public Comment from the School Board meetings.

In a 4 to 3 vote the Durham School Board eliminated all Open Public Comment at School Board meetings. This vote is simply the latest attempt on the part of the white members of this board to silence their critics. The Gange of Four, as they have come to be known, would have the public believe that there are more opportunities than ever before to address the School Board. They point to several new subcommittees where citizens can speak directly to board members in a small group setting. Don't be fooled by this propaganda. You may indeed go to these meetings but the entire board will not be there. Only selected board members go to these meetings. They listen to what you have to say but they are then free to ignore you. And that is exactly what they do. By no longer being able to address the entire board citizens have lost the opportunity to a free and open hearing of their problems. These subcommittees give the apprearance of more openess but in reality they allow the board to funnel dissent into a black hole where they don't have to deal with it if they don't want to. A hearing before the entire board, where ALL of the board members are present, allows for both black and white members to hear the grievence. The entire board is then aware of the problems and the minority members have an opportunity to have a say about how the problem should be addressed. The Gang of Four specifically denied the Chairmanship of any of the subcomittees to Jackie Wagstaff. With the elimination of Open Public Comment their attempts to stifle desent are now complete.