CH@T: ‘Brighter Futures’ group to host community info Q&A on Feb. 23

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A group of Chatham residents says the negative effects of school suspensions — which includes the interruption of the suspended students’ education — are as concerning as the disproportionate rates at which students with disabilities and Black and multiracial students are referred to law enforcement for actions at school.

Next Wednesday, the group — organized by the Chatham Community NAACP — will host a community information Zoom meeting to get resident input and a question-and-answer session about the topic and share more information about its “Brighter Futures” project goals, which include:

• a 90% reduction in school suspensions

• a 90% reduction in school-related juvenile delinquency

• the elimination of racial, disability, and economic disparities in suspension and delinquency rates

• limiting school/student resource officer (SRO) roles to state law requirements

This week, we speak with David G. Delaney, an attorney and Chatham County resident, about the so-called “school to prison pipeline.” Delaney is helping to develop a plan to work to reduce exclusionary practices and school-related delinquency complaints and create a collaborative community partnership to maintain safety in schools — yet at the same time interrupt that pipeline.

Delaney serves as chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee of the Chatham Community NAACP Branch. He is vice president and assistant general counsel for cybersecurity with Truist Financial, a parent of two elementary school children, and has taught law and public policy at Indiana University and UNC-Chapel Hill.

For those not aware of the “Brighter Futures” effort, can you give us a synopsis of its objectives, and the report you’ve helped put together about it?

Sure. This report proposes several goals that would make Chatham County the statewide leader in reducing student suspensions and school-related juvenile delinquencies. North Carolina data on those topics tell us that Chatham’s students of color and students with disabilities are several times more likely than their peers to be suspended or referred to the criminal justice system. We want to eliminate those disparities, cut suspensions and delinquencies by 90% over the coming year, use school resource officers in limited circumstances, and ultimately propose improvements in state law on these topics.

And remind us how you got involved, and who else is a part of this project…

Brighter Futures is the product of the criminal justice committee of the Chatham Community NAACP Branch. Our members are Mary Nettles, Gina Bacheler, Sam Cooper, Carl Fox, Bob Pearson and David Warren.

When we stood up the committee early last year, there was consensus to focus on student concerns. We knew that most juvenile delinquency complaints are school-related. We also knew that students fall behind their peers when they are removed from their normal learning environments. But we didn’t know specifically what steps or resources would be needed to keep students in school and out of the criminal justice system.

To supplement our own research and expertise, we consulted a number of experts, including retired University of Kansas professors Ann and Rud Turnbull on special education, North Carolina Central University law professor Irving Joyner on state law, Rosalyn Darling on sociology, and former CCS Interim Superintendent Randy Bridges.

What’s new since our last conversation?

It has been a busy few months.

Our committee members have discussed our goals with Chatham County Schools Superintendent Dr. Anthony Jackson and his leadership team. Branch president Mary Nettles and I have joined two CCS Equity Ambassador meetings to propose relationships between our work and the new CCS strategic plan taking shape. I briefed the Chatham County Juvenile Crime Prevention Council on our goals and plans, asked Public Health Director Mike Zelek to contribute his expertise, and discussed our plans with numerous parents and nonprofits. Judge Carl Fox has also coordinated with Chief District Court Judge Samantha Cabe about forming a School Justice Partnership through a N.C. Judicial Branch program that helps communities commit to shared goals. Community interest and support really have been strong.

The event on the 23rd: what’s going to happen, and what are the goals?

On Wednesday we will host a one-hour discussion via Zoom to reconnect with many of those public officials. We are also inviting nonprofits and individuals seeking specific ways to link their work with ours. If interested, write me at DelaneyLawNC@gmail.com with your ideas and some background. We will give a brief overview of Brighter Futures then ask participants what they think must happen to achieve Brighter Futures goals. Ideally, the meeting results in a mapping of specific activities, timelines, and resources needed to make progress together.

Who will participate?

Most of our committee members and experts will participate. We don’t have all responses yet, but we are thrilled that newly-elected N.C. NAACP president Deborah Dicks-Maxwell has confirmed, along with several CCS leaders and leading local nonprofits like Chatham Organizing for Racial Equity (CORE) and Communities In Schools of Chatham County. CORE, like Communities in Schools and other local nonprofits, is are already supporting CCS equity goals, and we look forward to partnering to amplify each group’s impact.

Afterward … how will you follow up, and where will the NAACP go from there?

The next big step is to work toward a memorandum of understanding that formalizes a School Justice Partnership among public officials, nonprofits, and other key stakeholders. Many counties already have such partnerships that have helped make great improvements for their students. We think Chatham County can make the biggest gains of any county, and if that’s successful then perhaps our work can drive a similar statewide effort by the NAACP and other partners.

To see our prior chat with Delaney, go to our story here.  

To register for the “Brighter Futures” event, go here.  

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