Education And Race - Next Steps In New Hanover County

Feb 20, 2019

The New Hanover County Board of Education will meet next week to discuss the future of Williston Middle School. At issue is whether it will become an arts school, a high school, or perhaps stay as it is. That’s just one of several items the new Board is working on this year. And those items come with some history.

The New Hanover County Board of Education is focused on redistricting, funding the Isaac Bear High School, and school safety.  All this – while a local citizens’ group calls for an internal investigation.

Last week The North Carolina Council of Churches hosted a town hall meeting in Wilmington, called “Bridging the Silence: A Forum about Race, Reconciliation and Redemption.”

It brought up another challenge facing the new Board of Education.

Is racism driving policy?

Nelson Beaulieu is serving his first term on the board. He won election last November.

“It's a huge problem. And you know, we have to talk about it. We have to be honest about it. But the point is, if we want to understand how we got here, we can't just look at the last 10 years, the last 15 years. We have to have somewhat of an understanding, a full understanding of race and the issues surrounding race in Wilmington, North Carolina. It's a full history. It's not always a pleasant history.”

Reverend Dante Murphy with the Southern Coalition for Equal Protections Under the Law brought up several past cases where he alleged that officials mishandled or covered up wrongdoing within the schools.

“Joe Biden, former vice president of the United States, stated during the speaking engagement on January 21st of this year, that white America has to admit that there’s still a systemic racism. Likewise and more so, New Hanover County school system and its citizens has to admit to a history of systemic racism. That now hinges on corruption and co-conspiracy by its top administrators, attorneys, and now a school board refusing to take these matters seriously. The challenge now is that this new school board find their sea legs, and exercise their power, to protect our children.”

His Coalition had requested the Board to look into the allegations, but in a January 3rd meeting the board decided not to investigate his claims.

Lisa Estep is Chairperson of the New Hanover County Board of Education. On a recent CoastLine program about redistricting, she explained that this new board will take a fresh look at a lot of items.

“Well, I think that we really, basically from, from my view, and I'm one of seven, I would like to kind of restart that conversation. We have, guidelines that the old board kind of defined and I think this new board needs to find their own guidelines. You know, we've got seven members, and we need to figure out as a board what we feel are important, and guidelines to stick to as we go through this process.”

Board newcomer Nelson Beaulieu insists the group will tackle the education issues in New Hanover County in a bipartisan fashion.

“I don't know what being a Democratic board member is. I don't know what being a Republican board member is. We are working together, we're talking together, we're just, we're learning what drives the other, but we're doing a great job of communicating and that passion and exist through all seven board members. We are at ground zero, for building the future of New Hanover County and everybody has a stake in that.”

For WHQR News, I’m Vince Winkel.

The New Hanover County Board of Education's Williston Exploratory Committee will meet on Monday, February 25, at 2 p.m. on the campus of Williston Middle School.