By Amanda Greene, Wilmington Star-News
A UNCW creative writing professor and author is lending his words and statewide clout to the New Han over County middle school redistricting fight.
In advance of the Tuesday meeting in which middle school maps are to be finalized, Clyde Edgerton has been organizing petitioners, e-mailing school board members and mobilizing the N.C. Council of Churches to oppose the current redistricting plan.
At issue is the feeling on one side that a choice of keeping students closer to home promotes racial and socio-economic segregation of the schools. Folks in favor of the current neighborhood schools plan that keeps students closer to home vehemently deny the plan is race-based. They say it’s an issue of children going to schools that are too far away from their homes and communities.
“Under redistricting plan 2B my children go to Williston Middle School. I accept that fully,” Edgerton said. “I decided to reach out to the N.C. Council of Churches because they and many other religious groups … are concerned about how poor people are treated in a society that claims equal opportunity in public schools.”
Last week, the council sent an email to all the churches on its New Han over County database titled “Opposing re-segregation in the schools,” that encouraged church leaders to sign petitions being circulated against middle school redistricting. The organization isn’t formally planning an event in the area, said executive director George Reed. The Council is a Raleigh-based group that organizes churches in the state around social justice issues.
“We’ll be staying in touch with Clyde to see what he thinks we should do next,” Reed said. So far, local worship leaders in the Methodist, Presbyterian, Muslim, Episcopal and interfaith communities have signed the diversity petition.
But neighborhood school proponents are winning the battle in numbers of petitioners. The Support Neighborhood Schools for New Hanover County site has 670 signatures with a goal of 500. Support Diversity in all New Hanover County Schools has 329 signatures with a goal of 500.
For Rev. William Johnson, pastor of St. Luke A.M.E. Zion Church, being involved in middle school redistricting is an issue of moral conscience. With one daughter in middle school, it’s also personal.
He has been talking about the redistricting effort with his parish and encouraging them to sign the petition against the current plan. He believes minority students aren’t given the same honor class promotion opportunities as white students.
“And to add insult to injury, now they don’t want to have our kids in the same schools together,” he said.
Janine Henry was offended recently when her fifth-grade daughter brought home a flier from Forest Hills Elementary School offering free tutoring only to kids who get free and reduced lunch. Henry finds it condescending that it is implied that students who need lunch assistance won’t achieve as well as students from economically stable families.
“Yes, my daughter gets reduced lunch, but she’s a straight-A student in an accelerated reading program. It’s almost saying that if you’re on free and reduced lunch you make lower grades,” she said. “You’re judging a person by what they pay for lunch.”
But Edgerton worries that this last-minute push from the churches might be too late.
“I hope I’m wrong and that all three high-poverty schools get some relief. It is a complicated issue, but in my view the school board has practiced followship rather than leadership,” he said. “If the neighborhood school plan 2B with tweaks is approved in Wilmington, as it probably will be Tuesday night, then the segregation of races in schools will look more and more like they did when I went to middle school in the 1950s. For some people, that is not a problem. For others, it’s unjust.”
Staff writer Chelsea Kellner contributed to this report.