Saturday, April 20, 2024

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Cummings, Graham students and parents take their turn at opposing redistricting plans


Alamance-Burlington school board members heard from two students and six parents, all apparently from the Cummings and Graham high school attendance zones, who said they fear the repercussions of being redistricted to the Southern zone when new attendance lines take effect in August.

The speakers who aired their concerns Monday night are among several hundred students who are being reassigned as a result of the high school redistricting plan the board approved in November 2022.

This marked the second consecutive month in which an assemblage of parents and students has lobbied the board to reconsider its redistricting plan. In January, eight speakers from the Southern attendance zone asked the board to consider allowing all high school students to remain at their current schools, after board members voted in December 2022 to give only rising seniors that option.

See previous coverage last month of Southern opposition to redistricting plan:

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Anthony Withers, Jr., Cummings freshman
Diamond Moore, Cummings freshman

Anthony Withers, Jr. and Diamond Moore, both freshmen at Cummings High School this year, told school board members during the public comments period of their meeting Monday night that they’re afraid they might not feel at home when they change schools this fall. (Neither specified which school they have been redistricted to attend.)

Moore, who said she’s a cheerleader and a member of the indoor track and field team, said, “I was shy and quiet and being a part of CHS has helped me to become a better person and come out of my shell…Transferring to a new school opens you up to bullying and having to adjust to a whole new environment. I have been with the same students since elementary school; we are not only classmates – we are family.”

Withers said he hates to leave the “family-oriented” culture at Cummings High School. “When I found out I was getting redistricted, it kind of hurt,” Withers said during the public comments period Monday night. “With me being a freshman, it’s kind of like building a culture; [at] Cummings, everybody’s like family…The class I came into Cummings with, I just want to graduate with. Cummings is like a second home to me.”

Parent Crystal Clay

ABSS parent Crystal Clay said her children have been redistricted to the Southern zone, and that while they are currently enrolled in afterschool programs with the Boys & Girls Club in Burlington, the club doesn’t serve students in the Southern zone. “I do need that afterschool care to make sure they do homework” and provide supervision for her children while she’s at work, Clay said Monday night.

Parent Tameka Harvey

ABSS parent Tameka Harvey called the redistricting plan “a disaster waiting to happen.

“What support systems do you have in place when our children have to go to new schools?” Harvey asked Monday night. “Do you know what it’s like for a kid to go to a new school? What happens if a kid doesn’t fit in?

“The new high school,” Harvey added, “would’ve populated itself in due time.”

Cummings parent Lakia Rhodes

ABSS parent Lakia Rhodes told the board that her daughter has been rezoned from Cummings to Graham, limiting the ability of people who help out with her daughter to continue providing that support. “I would like for you to reconsider [the redistricting plan],” Rhodes said, telling that board that it’s almost 12:30 a.m. by the time she gets home from working second shift at Duke University.


Whose future?
ABSS parent Alexis Graves told the board that her two children will be rezoned this fall. “I moved to where I am so they would go to [Broadview and] Cummings,” she said, saying it’s unfair that “parents are being bullied to go to the new school.”

Cummings parent Anita Burton
Cummings parent Alexis Graves

ABSS parent Anita Burton, whose daughter is set to graduate from Cummings High School this June, said, “I can only think the person she would be had she not gone to Cummings. She wouldn’t have experienced drum line; she wouldn’t be as confident; and she wouldn’t have attended the Sugar Bowl [to perform at halftime in December]. Her future would’ve been altered, derailed. I ask that you just not go through the motions when you and your colleagues sit over the upcoming [transfer appeal] hearings because that would just be playing with people’s futures.

“My second suggestion,” Burton added, “is please take an analysis of disciplinary issues in the schools before and after this rezoning. When you place humans that they don’t want to be in, and you tell them ‘it is what it is,’ we don’t thrive, we don’t do our best, and we can be disruptive, turning an otherwise peaceful environment into a hostile one.

“Lastly, the ABSS motto I see online is ‘student-centered, future-focused,’” Burton reminded the board Monday night. “I guess we all are about to learn whose future you are talking about.”


‘It irritates me to my soul’
ABSS parent Yolanda Strickland was the most unsparing in her criticism of the changes Monday night. Calling herself a proud Graham parent who “single-handedly served on the PTO at North Graham, Graham Middle, and Graham high school,” Strickland said her oldest daughter graduated from Graham High School at age 16 with college scholarships, and her youngest graduated with more than a year of college credits, in addition to her high school diploma, in the midst of a pandemic.

Graham parent Yoland Strickland

“My children have participated in dance, cheer, basketball, baseball, football, volleyball,” Strickland said Monday night. “I’m a proud Graham High School mom and a proud Graham Middle School mom, despite the constant changes in the administration, teachers, staff, football coaches, all of the above.

“I live in Hanford Hills,” Strickland continued. “I’ve actually been closer to Southern and Williams than I have been to Graham High School, and now my son has been rezoned to Southern High School. After some research, I’ve learned that less than half of the population at Southern High School is brown, diverse, African-American, or black. Only 8 percent of the population at Southern is black; and as a long-term sub at Graham High School and Graham Middle, and as a Graham cheer coach, I’ve experienced a lot of things at Southern High School.

“There was a game between Southern and Graham that took place at Southern Middle,” Strickland recalled Monday night. “Students and athletes called our cheerleaders and our players racial slurs. The principal at the time…came to our school with letters from the students who made those racial slurs, with apologies.

“The fire academy [at Graham High] and the animal tech classes [at Southern High]: we all know the students from other schools are allowed to come to Graham High School,” Strickland said. “They leave their home schools an hour each day to participate in the Graham fire academy. My daughter was not given the opportunity to even attend the Southern High School animal tech program. In short, you did not want our children – the brown, the minority students – at Southern High School when they had every opportunity to be there.

“Now you want to send my son to a school where he has no culture, no teachers who look like him,” Strickland told the board Monday night. “His teachers this year were all black male teachers. Everyone says that Alamance County, Graham High School, is an ‘at-risk school’ with students who are at-risk of failing; my children have been nothing more than successful.

“It irritates me to my soul that you want to send my brown child to a school where people have called him racial slurs,” Strickland continued. “He’s losing his identity; he’s losing his culture; he’s losing the safety net that he has at Graham High School. I’m frustrated; I’m furious. I feel like my son’s health, mental well-being, and safety is at risk if I send him to Southern High School. We’ve been closer to Southern High School all this time, but you sent him to Graham High School. Now there’s a new school being built, and the powers that be are sending the non-brown kids to the new school – and you want to bus mine somewhere else now.”

ABSS officials subsequently confirmed for The Alamance News that no incidents involving racially-motivated violence or racial animus have been reported “at any ABSS school this year.”

“Any incident of violence we have posted on our social media and alerted families,” ABSS public information officer Les Atkins added in a brief phone interview Wednesday morning.

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