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NC's Chatham County Schools respond to 'slave auction' with an apology and a new policy

Chatham County Schools

Chatham County Schools is revising its policies for dealing with racist acts after students at J.S. Waters School in Goldston held a mock slave auction.

The issue became public after parent Ashley Palmer wrote a Facebook post last week saying her child witnessed white students pretending to auction their Black classmates. Palmer told ABC11 that her son said it happened during an after-school baseball practice.

Parents denounced the incident during public comment at Monday night's school board meeting, and dozens of community members rallied outside the meeting.

Christy Wagner spoke during the public comment period and said she learned from another parent that her son was a target in the incident.

"More should be done around addressing racism in schools because no parent should have to stand here after hearing their son was sold in a slave trade at school," Wagner said. "Some days I feel angered about what has happened, some days I feel sadness trying to grasp why are we still having these issues in 2022?"

Superintendent Anthony Jackson responded during the board meeting, leading with an apology.

"I want to offer an apology — an apology to every single student who has ever felt unsafe while in our care," Jackson said. "As painful as it has been to hear some of these accounts, I want to thank those who exercise the courage to step forward and speak their truth."

"Some days I feel angered about what has happened, some days I feel sadness trying to grasp why are we still having these issues in 2022?"
Christy Wagner, parent

Jackson outlined detailed procedures for how schools in the district will respond to any future acts of racism or hate speech.

The school board unanimously approved the new policy.

"Those who participate in acts that demean any person are acting outside of the values of our school system, and will be held accountable," Jackson said.

Under the new policy, parents and district-level staff must be notified of discriminatory acts that occur on school grounds. Then an investigation must take place, with parents of the impacted students being informed of the result within five days.

The school district will seek to make the incident public, with respect for confidentiality of those involved.

District staff will offer emotional support to students who have been harmed or witnessed a racist or discriminatory act. Offending students will complete a lesson or assignment to reflect on their wrongdoing in addition to disciplinary measures.

Jackson also mentioned the use of restorative justice practices when appropriate, which bring together both parties to come to a solution.

"What we will do is ensure that our students are taken care of quickly," Jackson said. "And that those who transgress against us, that the consequences are equally as quick."

Copyright 2022 North Carolina Public Radio. To see more, visit North Carolina Public Radio.

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Policy Reporter, a fellowship position supported by the A.J. Fletcher Foundation. She has an M.A. from the UNC Chapel Hill School of Media & Journalism and a B.A. in history and anthropology from Indiana University.