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SMITHFIELD — The Johnston County public schools are going on the offensive against racial animus.
In an “open letter” on Dec. 9 to the people of Johnston County, interim Superintendent Jim Causby said the school system has in place a committee to “promote fairness and respect of students and staff.” Causby’s letter followed what he called incidents of “racial and political insensitivity” in the schools.
“Specifically, these events have involved students in racially offensive chat rooms, disruptive displays of political views and negative social media comments about our students.,” Causby wrote. “These displays, actions and verbalized remarks are not respectful of fellow students within Johnston County Public Schools.”
The superintendent did not elaborate on the incidents, but in at least two cases, they involved students at Corinth Holders High School, according to media reports. On Oct. 10, the News & Observer in Raleigh reported that five Corinth Holders students, in online posts, made racial slurs and talked about shooting black people. In another incident, according to jocoreport.com, Corinth Holders students attending an away basketball game at Smithfield-Selma High School waved a Trump banner as they taunted SSS Hispanic students who were in the stands that night.
“While these actions were promptly addressed with consequences, these behaviors do not reflect the high expectations of the school system,” Causby wrote without referring to any specific incident.
“I want to express how serious school and district administration is about these types of behaviors and interactions,” Causby continued. “My expectation is that we will treat these differing viewpoints and each other in a respectful, humane and civil manner.
“While beliefs and viewpoints may differ, it is essential that behavior is demonstrated which appreciates and values the individual opinions, beliefs and cultures of our students and staff within Johnston County Public Schools.”
Schools are about more than classroom performance, Causby said. “Johnston County Public Schools’ success will be determined by how we stand on the principles of humanity and academic achievement,” he wrote. “It is my expectation that all students in Johnston County Public Schools are educated in a safe, orderly and respectful environment as we prepare our students for the future.”
Members of the committee on equity are Crystal Roberts, chief of equity, information and student services; Dee Edmundson, executive director of equity; Amanda Allen, executive director of social and emotional learning; Pablo Jimenez Arreaga, parent involvement assistant and translator at Smithfield Middle School; Kendrick Byrd, director of certified personnel; Emily Hargrove, advanced learning coach; Cherry Johnson, director of research and grant development; Brian A. Jones, student information coordinator; Ana Milazzotto, executive director of federal education programs; David Moore, warehouse coordinator; Nesh Reddy, information technology technician; Hannah Smith, executive director of educator support; James Summers, communication specialist; Danny Williams, area bus coordinator; and Suzanne Lujan, executive director of Careers and College Promise.
The committee has six blacks, two Latinos, one Latino-Italian, four whites and one South African, said Roberts, the equity chief.
What it doesn’t have is any members from outside the school system, and for the moment, that’s on purpose, Roberts said. “Our committee was developed intentionally to be comprised of district staff members who are committed to equity work and have a sincere interest in contributing to this initiative,” she said. “To that end, we were also very intentional about selecting and inviting members.”
Roberts noted that committee member Smith, for example, previously worked as an equity facilitator in Wake County and that Hargrove is working on a master’s degree in equity.
The plan going forward is to create a community group that will advise the committee on equity issues, Roberts said. “The advisory would be comprised of county entity representatives and parents,” she said.
The Rev. Robert O’Neal is senior pastor of O’Neal Revival Tabernacle and a leader of the Johnston County Education Summit, a group that has lobbied the public schools on matters affecting minorities. O’Neal said his group was aware of the racial incidents but preferred not to comment.
“Our position is that this is a matter for the NAACP since First Amendent rights and acts of bullying may be argued,” O’Neal said in an email.
The Johnston County NAACP did not return messages seeking comment.