#ACTION4ASHLEY

Action4Ashley is a coalition of concerned citizens and advocacy organizations

seeking justice for the students, teachers, and staff of Ashley Elementary School.

WHY are we fighting for Ashley?

 

For years, staff and students at Ashley Academy experienced illness and symptoms associated with mold exposure and indoor air quality problems due to the school’s poor facility conditions. In August 2017, a group of teachers complained to Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School (WSFCS) officials about the situation. After months of pressure by teachers, parents, and community members, WSFCS finally released a report in April 2018 that revealed evidence of “extensive visible mold growth” in the school.

 

Effects of Mold and Poor Air Quality on Students:

  • Headaches, fatigue, and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs

  • Allergies, respiratory infections, and exacerbation of chronic asthma

  • Diminished concentration, attendance, and academic performance

 

HOW are we fighting for Ashley?

 

After the 2018 report, WSFCS agreed to make some changes, but refused to consider a new building or major renovations to address the underlying issue. In response, the #Action4Ashley Coalition filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The complaint, filed in August 2018, alleges that WSFCS violated federal anti-discrimination laws by failing to ensure that students at Ashley, who are almost all Black and Brown students, have the same access to safe and appropriate school buildings as White students in the district. In December 2018, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights opened a formal investigation into whether WSFCS discriminated against students at Ashley. 

 

WHAT can you do to join our fight for Ashley?

 

Opening of Federal Investigation into Alleged Civil Rights Violations
in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools

January 5, 2019

Action4Equity Statement on Opening of Federal Investigation into

Alleged Civil Rights Violations in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools

 

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights ("OCR") has officially opened an investigation into the complaint that the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools (“WSFCS” or “District”) discriminated against students at Ashley Academy (“Ashley”) on the bases of race and national origin. The initial complaint, filed in August by the Action4Ashley Coalition, alleged that WSFCS treated students attending Ashley, which has a majority Black and Hispanic student population, differently from students attending schools with majority White student populations, by failing to respond to complaints of environmental health concerns at Ashley. The complaint alleged that the District’s failure to adequately address the environmental health concerns at Ashley denied students equal access to a safe and appropriate school facility.

 

Since filing the initial complaint, members of Action4Ashley formed the Action4Equity Coalition, which seeks to advocate for equity for all students in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools in academic achievement, access to high quality instruction, and safe and healthy school environments. We, Action4Equity, have issued a list of recommendations to ensure that WSFCS becomes a leader in equity across the state. We urge the District to cooperate with OCR’s investigation and seek resolution by pursuing the following recommendations that demonstrate a commitment to safe and healthy schools, particularly for the students of Ashley Academy.

 

  • Create a plan to build a new school to replace Ashley Academy and address all interim infrastructure issues causing student/staff health problems.

  • Develop a matrix and infrastructure plan that focuses on equity. This matrix will identify the resources and infrastructure needs of each school. A draft will be publicly available no later than May 2019.

 

We strongly encourage the District to pursue these two recommendations, among the others included in our December 2018 statement, as the Office for Civil Rights investigates the complaint into the discrimination at Ashley Academy.

Press Release: Action4Ashley Coalition Files Federal Civil Rights Complaint

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

August 14, 2018

 

Contact:  

Kellie P. Easton, kellie@eastonreidgroup.com, 443.621.7420

Dustin Chicurel-Bayard, dustin@scsj.org, 919.323.4051

 

 

Action4Ashley Coalition Files Federal Civil Rights Complaint 

School that serves mostly students of color subjected to local inaction and unsafe conditions

 

 

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -  The Action4Ashley Coalition - a group of concerned citizens and advocacy organizations seeking justice for the students, teachers, and staff of Ashley Elementary - filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights today.  The complaint cites the failure of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education and School System (WSFCS) to address the long-term and persistent complaints from parents and school staff about mold, water leaks, excessive moisture, and poor air-quality at Ashley Academy, which serves predominantly students of color.  The conditions are impacting the health, safety, and education of students and teachers.

 

A copy of the complaint is available here

 

What: Press conference announcing Action4Ashley Coalition’s next steps in the fight for safe environmental conditions at Ashley Academy

 

Who: Action4Ashley Coalition partners including ….; and representatives from the Youth Justice Project at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice

 

Where: NAACP Winston-Salem Chapter Office - 4130 Oak Ridge Dr, Winston-Salem, NC 27105 (map)

 

When: Tuesday, August 14, 2018 at 11:00 a.m.

 

More information about the complaint:

 

The Action4Ashley Coalition filed an official complaint with the U.S. Department of Education on Tuesday, August 14, 2018.  The complaint alleges that the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education and School System (WSFCS) has violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin. Specifically, the group seeks remedies for the District’s inadequate and discriminatory response to the long-term and persistent complaints from parents and school staff that mold, water leaks, excessive moisture, and poor air-quality at Ashley Academy, are impacting the health, safety, and education of students and teachers.

 

The case for race discrimination

 

By failing to ensure that all students at Ashley, an elementary school that predominantly serves students of color from households living below the poverty line, have equal access to safe and appropriate school buildings and facilities, WSFCS has discriminated against these students in violation of federal law.

 

Complainant asks the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) to investigate WSFCS and require the District to take immediate and appropriate action to remedy this discrimination and afford the students at Ashley an equal opportunity to education as required by law.

 

Ashley Academy is an elementary school in WSFCS that serves predominately Black and Hispanic students. In the 2016-2017 school year, Ashley had a total student population of 521 with:

  • 59.3% of those students identifying as Black,

  • 32.6% identifying as Hispanic,

  • 1.7% identifying as Multi-Racial, and

  • 0.6% identifying as American Indian. 

 

Only 30 students (or 5.8%) at Ashley identified as White, even though White students make up 39.2% of the District’s overall population. 

 

Ashley also serves a disproportionately high number of students from households living below or near the federal poverty line. Ashley is a Title I school with almost 100% of the student population qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch. 

 

Funding for solutions denied

 

Voters approved a school bond referendum in 2016 that provided WSFCS with $350,000,000 to “improve the safety and capacity of [the] schools as well as improve instructional delivery.”  The bond project list includes the building of new schools, replacing schools, adding additions to schools, renovations to several schools, safety improvements at several schools, installations of cameras at all middle schools, and student safety and transportation improvements.  Over $50,000,000 of the bond is dedicated to building two new middle schools to relieve overcrowding at three existing middle schools, all of which have significantly higher populations of White students compared to Ashley. 

 

Under the original bond proposed by staff to the WSFCS Board in July 2015 (which was for $552.5 million), Ashley Elementary was slated for replacement. School officials stated in Fall 2015 that they were trying to negotiate a land deal to secure property to build a new school. However, in spring of 2016, the Board cut Ashley’s new building from the list of bond projects.

 

Action taken to protect the health of students at schools with higher White population

 

Three years before the Ashley crises came to a head, the WSFCS faced a similar situation in the District. In January 2015, teachers and parents of students at Hanes and Lowrance middle schools raised questions about the air quality, after learning that the school buildings were located near a hazardous waste site.  Groundwater tests showed chemical levels well above the state safety standards. However, indoor air quality testing conducted the previous year in March 2014 showed no evidence that the chemicals had vaporized– the real potential danger posed by the underground contamination. 

 

WSFCS responded by moving students from Hanes and Lowrance Middle Schools off their respective campus before final environmental tests were completed, even though no students or staff had reported any symptoms and despite expert testimony that the risk to students and teachers was low and there was no need to close the schools before the end of the year unless unexpected concentrations of indoor air contaminants were detected by an expert inspection company. 

 

The final expert report stated that none of the air-samples exceeded screening levels and there was no immediate risk to students.  Despite this report, the Board voted to keep the students off campus for the remainder of the year.  The Board chair at the time stated, “I still think it was the right decision. When you have students, children...you do what’s right. You err on the side of caution.”  The mid-year relocation cost between 3-4 million dollars.

 

Notably, both Hanes and Lowrance middle schools had a significantly higher population of White students than Ashley (44% White and 28% White compared to 5.8% White).  As a result, the parents and advocates urging the Board to act during the Hanes-Lowrance situation were predominately White, while many of the parents, teachers and advocates advocating for action in the Ashley crises are Black. Relatedly, the “wait-and-see” attitude exhibited by WSFCS in regards to concerns about Ashley is a distinct departure from the urgency shown in 2015 for the students at Hanes and Lowrance Middle Schools.

 

Evidence of intentional discrimination

 

It is clear that the Board employed significantly different procedures for handling the mold situation at Ashley than they used at Hanes-Lowrance. The only explanation for this difference is the racial makeup of the student population.

 

Additional evidence of discrimination is seen in the way that the 2016 bond money has been allocated. The 2016 bond provided WSFCS with a significant amount of money for school improvements repairs. Despite this influx of money and the immediate health crises at Ashley, the District did not prioritize a new building for Ashley.

 

WSFCS is expending over $50 million to build two new schools that will relieve overcrowding at three whiter, more affluent schools (Jefferson, Meadowlark, Southeast). Overcrowding is a problem, but it is not more urgent than the health of students and teachers. Further, the overcrowding at many of WSFCS’s schools is a self-created problem driven by the District’s “school choice” assignment policy that fuels racial and socio-economic segregation and results in some schools being overenrolled while many schools remain under-enrolled.

 

What Action4Ashley wants the U.S. Department of Education to require the District to do:

 

  • Take all necessary steps to build a new facility for Ashley as soon as practicable, including the allocation of funding to support the immediate construction of a new facility.

 

  • Until the new facility is built, provide students and staff who experience or are at-risk of experiencing symptoms connected to poor indoor air quality the opportunity to transfer to a different school. The District should provide transportation as needed to any students who decide to transfer.

 

  • Provide compensatory education services to students who missed school due to health problems connected to poor indoor air quality during the 2017-18 school year.

 

  • Conduct a comprehensive survey of facility conditions at all schools in the District to determine whether similar problems exist at other schools, with a particular focus on schools serving predominantly non-White or low-income students. If problems are found, develop an action plan to address the problems. Ensure there is parent, student, staff and community involvement in the development of any action plan.

 

Video and Images from the Press Conference