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.




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