Orange County Justice United held a meeting with members of the Orange County Board of Education (pictured above) on Thursday to discuss school equity, budget concerns and other social justice issues.

On Thursday, members of Orange County Justice United gathered at Lattisville Grove Missionary Baptist Church to discuss goals set at a similar meeting last year, also spotlighting issues of inequity in OCS.

“I had a vision of new Orange County, one where...teachers could reflect the population of the students that they serve,”  Lattisville Grove Pastor George Crews III said. “To make this change we need power — organized people acting consistently.”

Orange County Board of Education members Brenda Stephens, Sarah Smylie, and Hillary MacKenzie attended the meeting, laying out the timeline for the hiring of a new superintendent and addressing 2019-20 budget concerns.

“Your budget shows your values,” Smylie said. “We’ve planned for equity training. In the proposed county budget we’ve received less than what we asked for, so we have to make hard choices and we’re asking guidance for those decisions right now.”

Last year, Stephens and Smylie — then the board chair and vice chair — and Superintendent Todd Wirt attended the 2018 meeting to brief the group on initiatives and make a pledge to work on diversity in the school system.

New BOE Chair Will Atherton and Vice Chair Tony McKnight did not attend this year’s meeting, and event organizers called upon the two men to have a conversation with the group regarding the upcoming budget. 

“I was traveling on the day of the meeting and didn’t know about it far enough in advance to make plans to be back from a different state in time to attend,” Atherton said in an interview. “But I am certainly willing to talk to anyone in the community who has ideas for me or advice and to hear what they have to say.”

Organizers also asked meeting attendees to attend upcoming Orange County budget public hearings.

On May 5, the Hate Free Schools Coalition also gathered to open up a community conversation about recent acts of racial violence or discrimination in Orange County Schools.

The meeting came in the shadow of an incident a few weeks ago at Orange High School when a student’s car was allegedly defaced with a racial slur after he parked in an area of the student parking lot commonly referred to as “redneck row” by students.

“This isn’t just kids being called names, I think there is something deeper than that,” Latarndra Strong, an OCS parent and the founder of the coalition, said. “The school board is in an uproar and incidents are occurring like this in schools, and everything seems to be connected to the parents involved.”

The group, which got off the ground as a grassroots organization in 2015 with a campaign to ban the Confederate flag in OCS dress code policy, met to give those with complaints or claims of inequity in OCS a place to talk openly. 

Strong said that the group meets to “protest a culture of racial intimidation,” which she said includes the recent shift in school board leadership that placed Will Atherton in the role of chair and also the way in which an investigation that was opened by OCS to look into claims of racism at Cameron Park Elementary made by parent Krystal Little on behalf of her child is progressing.

“There are people in positions of power who have a very baseline understanding of equity,” Strong said. “They’re using lots of buzzwords now but they’re not looking for the deeper issues.”