January 28, 2010
|Parent Discontent Bubbles Up At Eastern|
According to some parents, not all is well at Eastern Guilford High School.
Eastern would seem to have a lot going for it. The school reopened in a new building in April 2009, after two-and-a-half years in temporary quarters following a fire that destroyed its original building in November 2006. Its new principal, Gregg Slate, is well regarded even by critics of Guilford County Schools. And the outpouring of support from parents and community members after the fire created a sense of school spirit that equals any in Guilford County.
Nonetheless, some parents of Eastern students are angry.
At a public forum in Eastern's auditorium on Monday, Jan. 25, parents lambasted Slate, School Superintendent Mo Green, Southeastern Region Superintendent Phyllis Martin and Guilford County Board of Education members Paul Daniels, Nancy Routh, Kris Cooke and Darlene Garrett with a litany of complaints about the school, including allegations that the school system is putting students at risk by letting felons into classes and concerns about academics.
The forum was organized by Martin at the request of the parents, many of whom live in the Gibsonville/Sedalia area and attended Eastern and its feeder schools, as well as having children who attend Eastern.
There are unhappy parents at any school, but the discontent at Eastern was strong enough that the school system arranged a full-dress event to respond to it, complete with Green and the school board members, which is unusual.
The spark that drew the parents to Eastern was the Dec. 18 arrest of an Eastern student for having a loaded .380-caliber semiautomatic handgun in his locker at the school.
According to Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes, the sheriff's deputy serving at Eastern arrested Isaiah Neal Crawford, 17, of 1912 McKnight Mill Road, Greensboro, after finding the handgun in the locker loaded, with a round in the chamber. Barnes said Crawford was charged with possession of a firearm on school property.
Parents who spoke at the forum attacked Guilford County Schools for letting Crawford and students with criminal records attend Eastern, saying the students should be in an alternative setting such as the school system's SCALE academies for suspended students.
Eastern parent Lisa Clapp said, "Why are we allowing this type of student back into our classrooms in Guilford County?"
Guilford County Schools Chief of Staff Nora Carr said Crawford has not been returned to a Guilford County school since being charged.
Green said that, under the requirements of state law, there are convicted felons enrolled both at regular schools and at the SCALE academies. "There's no question that they are in both places," he said.
School board attorney Jill Wilson told the parents that access to education is a constitutional right under North Carolina law, and that students can only be expelled or suspended under statutorily specified circumstances. Wilson said the school system rarely expels even students who commit felonies because, under an odd wrinkle in the law, expelled students can apply for readmission in six months, while students caught with firearms or explosives can be suspended for a year, the longest suspension available.
Wilson said, "We certainly don't take weapons lightly in the school system."
Wilson said that criminal records are not public for juveniles under 16, and the school system might not know about a record a student acquired before that age. She said the school system can expel or suspend students for something that has happened at school. "There isn't a way to just remove people who did things in society we don't approve of," she said.
Part of the parents' discontent comes from the fact that Eastern dates to 1974, but the population it served changed in 1992, when the Guilford County, Greensboro and High Point schools were consolidated. Now, 65 percent of the school's students come from east Greensboro, and parents said the high percentage of city kids have brought city problems to the once placid school.
Parent John Terry said, "I think the merger was one of the worst things we ever did," calling on Guilford County Schools to go back to a system of less-expensive neighborhood schools that wouldn't result in long bus rides that require students to leave early in the morning.
School board members at the meeting said the school board wasn't happy with the attendance lines it drew after consolidation, which had to be mapped to existing schools. They said Eastern's attendance zone was a particular problem.
"It was a nightmare," said Cooke, who was on the redistricting committee. "And the reason I say that is, the schools weren't in the place we wanted them."
Cooke said the redistricting committee had particular problems with large rural schools like Eastern, which had lots of space but only a small pool of local students to draw from. She said that, at the time, she questioned the wisdom of bringing a large population of east Greensboro students to the rural school.
Several parents asked that Eastern be redistricted, and when that could be done.
"Let me think – when is my term up?" Cooke said. "Let's see, another two-and-a-half years."
Several parents also said they were worried about Eastern's test scores. Only 46 percent of Eastern's students passed state end-of course tests in 2009, and the school is ranked as "low-performing" by the state, meaning it is in danger of being reconstituted under state law and the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which could conceivably include the school being taken over by the state.
Green said Eastern and the other nine low-performing Guilford County schools are getting extra attention and that, even though the test scores are low, they are improving.
"The school has responded," he said. "Our children have responded."