Three months after a lawsuit was filed against Johnston County Schools for failing to turn over public records, school leaders have now agreed to release the documents.
Concerned Citizens for Successful Schools (CCSS), formerly known as the Citizens’ Study Commission, filed the lawsuit in February 2016 against the school system and former Superintendent Dr. Ed Croom.
The group said Johnston County Schools had failed to turn over documents requested in 2015 under the NC Public Records Law, but the two sides reached a settlement last week prior to a scheduled court hearing.
Four years ago, a group of local parents, educators, business owners, and civic leaders who were concerned about the academic decline occurring at Smithfield-Selma High School formed the group. CCSS was organized to figure out why the decline was occurring, and what could be done to reverse it. Over time, the five feeder schools for Smithfield-Selma High were added to the study. CCSS analyzed various factors present in Smithfield and Selma area schools in comparison with other Johnston County schools.
As a result of that analysis, the mission of CCSS was established: to remedy racial and socioeconomic disparities in Johnston County schools so as to ensure the opportunity for a sound, basic education that will improve academic performance and outcomes for students in Smithfield-Selma High and its feeder schools: South Smithfield Elementary, Smithfield Middle, Selma Elementary, Selma Middle, and Wilson’s Mills Elementary.
As part of the group’s efforts to study the issue, CCSS sought the help of the UNC Center for Civil Rights. On May 29, 2015 a public records request was made from Superintendent Dr. Ed. Croom. Some of the records were provided on October 22, 2015. The group contends several items were missing from the records including “…demographic information needed to understand the racial imbalance that exists.”
On December 2, 2015, the UNC Center for Civil Rights repeated their request for the missing information. On January 15, 2016, Johnston County Schools Public Information Officer Tracey Peedin Jones responded that the request for the public records were “being reviewed.” Officials said they have had no further response to the request and were forced to file the lawsuit in February to obtain the public documents.
The February Public Records Lawsuit alleged Johnston County Schools violated NC General Statute 132-1, which states that those records “are the property of the people.”
Members of the CCSS include local Chairperson Susan Lassiter, attorney and former school board member Jack O’Hale, Selma Mayor Cheryl Oliver, former school board member Kay Carroll, Former Smithfield Mayor John Lampe, Cynthia Pittard, Dr. Gettys Cohen, Lloyd Barnes, Dr. Linda Whitley, Annie Johnson, Lt. Col. Jonathan Gaskins, and Bobby and Joyce Alston.
“CCSS remains concerned about the growing concentration of poor and non-white students in Smithfield and Selma schools,” according to a press release issued Wednesday. “Given the disparities in racial demographics between those schools and others across the district, CCSS Chairman Susan Lassiter said the organization is particularly troubled by the district’s choice to no longer keep track of the race of transfer students while also employing an open transfer policy.”
“Policies that enable families with more resources to flee schools where high-needs students are concentrated can worsen school segregation, which has a range of detrimental impacts on all students within a school system,” the release stated. “CCSS seeks a balance among Johnston County schools so every student has the opportunity to receive a sound, basic education. At the present time, there are severe inequities among schools in Johnston County, as demonstrated by the concentration of low wealth students and students of color, low performance outcomes, and disparities in resources in the Smithfield and Selma area schools.”