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Winston-Salem chronicle. (Winston-Salem, N.C.) 1974-current, March 31, 2016, Page A7, Image 7

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FORUM The shameful legacy of the special legislative session Chris Fltzsimon Guest Columnist The defining moment of the absurd special leg islative session held this week in Raleigh had noth ing to do with the common sense decision by the Charlotte City Council to allow transgender people to use the public restroom that corresponds to their sexual identity - the way many other local govern ments and private compa nies do. And it had nothing to do with the anti-worker provisions of the secretly crafted legislation that for bids cities from requiring companies that contract with local governments to pay decent wages - as dam aging as those provisions are to workers and the economy. And it wasn't even about a provision debated on the House floor that takes away the right of workers who are fired sim ply because they are African-American or Jewish or female to sue under state law - as shock ing as that provision is, joining North Carolina with Mississippi as the only places where workers cannot sue in state court for being fired for their race, religion, color, national ori gin, age, sex or disability. No, the defining moment in what has to be one of the most offensive special legislative sessions in North Carolina history came in the House on amendment proposed by Rep. Grier Martin that would have broadened the state's nondiscrimination law to include military sta tus, sexual orientation and gender identity. Martin's proposal came after bill sponsor Rep. Dan Bishop boasted that the legislation, unveiled min utes before it was debated in a House committee, would establish a statewide nondiscrimination law that protects people in employ ment and public accommo dations based on their race, religion, color, national ori gin, age, biological sex or disability. Biological sex was added to make sure trans gender people were not protected. The ordinance passed by the Charlotte City Council also included pro tections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in addition to the bathroom provision that was the subject of some of the worst demagoguery and fear-mongering to ever come out of the Legislative Building-and that's quite a high bar to clear. Bishop's bill voids Charlotte's protection of LGBT people from dis crimination and prohibits any other local govern ments from protecting them either. That didn't deter Bishop from repeat edly bellowing about what he called the historic statewide nondiscrimina tion standard the legisla tion established. Martin's amendment, the defining moment of the day, simply tried to broad en the basic protections to LGBT people across the state. It is easy to describe the debate that followed. There wasn't any. Rep. Paul Stam moved to table the propos al and the House voted 72 35 to kill the amendment. That's what the legisla tive record shows. But what the vote means is that the majority of the state House affirma tively decided that is okay for companies to fire peo pie who are gay simply because they are gay - in Charlotte and everywhere else in North Carolina. They voted to allow hotels to refuse rooms to same-sex couples and let taxis refuse rides to trans gender men and women. The majority of the House voted to give restaurants permission to refuse to serve a gay man and allow theaters to refuse to seat him based on his sexual orientation. The legislation adopted by the General Assembly this week included this clause about public accom modations. "It is the public policy of this State to protect and safeguard the right and opportunity of all individu als within die State to enjoy fully and equally the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of places of public accommodation free of discrimination .. There is a similarly flowery paragraph about employment protections. But it is not true. Not for all individuals, not for members of the LGBT community. They can still be openly discriminated against. The state House had a chance to change that Wednesday in a simple up or down vote. mora uy wum. They had a clear choice, equal rights or dis crimination. And they chose discrimination. That is the undeniable legacy of the 2016 special session of the General Assembly. Chris Fitzsimon, founder and executive director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the daily Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broad cast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news maga zine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. Contact him at chris@ncpolicywatch .com. Black students significantly more likely to face suspension in North Carolina Billy Ball Guest | Columnist N.C. Rep. Garland Pierce, a Democrat from Scotland County and the chairman of the state's Legislative Black Caucus, insists he's not overstating the crisis for black students in North Carolina today. Not after a recent report from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (DPI), that showed?once again?staggeringly high suspension rates for North Carolina's black students. The report showed that black students in North Carolina continued to be significantly more likely to receive short-term and long-term suspensions than their white peers in 2014 2015. State policies allow tor administrators to employ in-school or short-term sus pensions, which allow for out-of-school suspension of one to 10 days. More serious offenses could be punished with long-term, out-of-school suspension from 11 days to the remain der of the school year. The rate of short-term suspensions, about three for every 10 black students in North Carolina, more than tripled that for white students. And for long-term , suspensions, the rate? about 153 per every lOOjOOO black students more than quadrupled the rate for white students, according to DPI data. State data does not break down suspension fig ures to show whether stu dents are being treated equally across race lines for the same offenses, but some school critics have suggested black students are sometimes suspended for offenses that would prompt reprimands for their peers. Indeed, last week, N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson told state board members that she believed cultural differences sometimes can play a key role in school suspensions. "What may be disre spectful in one culture may not be disrespectful in another," said Atkinson, adding that increased pro fessional development for school staff could assuage the problem. According to Atkinson, the problem requires a range of reforms, as well as community buy-in. Atkinson pointed out con trolled substances and weapons were the top two reasons for suspensions last year. "So suspensions are not only challenges for our schools, but they are chal lenges for our communi ties," she said. While the state chapter of the NAACP did not respond to interview requests for this story, Rep. Pierce said the Legislative Black Caucus, a network of state lawmakers of African American and Native American descent, is plan ning a tour of counties with the best and worst numbers in the suspension data fol lowing the primaries. Pierce said the goal is to learn what some coun ties are doing right and, more importantly, what they're doing wrong. While Pierce wasn't willing to blame racism for the disparity?arguing, like Atkinson, that cultural dif ferences could be a large factor?other leaders were not so optimistic. , Rep. Ed Hanes Jr., a Democrat from Forsyth County who serves as vice chairman of the House Education Committee, lashed out at state educa tion leaders in ah email to Policy Watch, arguing that the suspension gap is push ing black students out of public schools and into charter schools and private schools. "I mean, for the life of me, I can't fathom why more and more black par ents are looking for an exit from public schools that both Democrat and Republican mostly white legislators have allowed to chew up black kids," Hanes wrote. Hanes' district includes the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools district, the fourth-largest in the state. According to DPI data, suspensions among black students nearly quadrupled the number among white students in 2014-2015, despite the fact that black students make up less than 30 percent of total enrollment. Hanes was among a handful of Democrats who rankled some liberals in 2013 when they backed the GOP-launched Opportunity Scholarship Program, a controversial program of public vouch ers that helps pay for low income children to attend private schools, most of them with religious back grounds. And with research indi cating a correlation between suspensions and drop-outs, Hanes went on to argue that the state's dis ciplinary practices may be dealing long-term damage to North Carolina's black residents. State education offi cials may soon have an ?answer for that complaint. Ken Gattis, a DPI researcher, tells Policy Watch that a committee at the department has been brainstorming possible solutions for the issue for more than a year. By next month, Gattis said he hopes to have a pro gram online that will allow system superintendents and school principals to access disaggregated figures before making disciplinary decisions. It's unclear, according to Gattis, whether that information would be deemed public record. Atkinson said it's a ? multi-pronged system of reforms, as well as data analysis, that will pay divi dends, adding that she will advocate for greater lever age for administrators to make judgment calls on suspensions, rather than imposing certain "zero-tol erance" rules. Billy Ball, Education Reporter, joined N.C. Policy Watch in January 2016. He covers public education at the N.C. General Assembly and the State Board of Education. Before joining the project, Billy was a staff writer and investigative reporter for the Independent Weekly for more than three years, covering education, the environment, politics and the criminal justice system. Before that, Billy served as a general assign ment reporter for the Sanford Herald and the Monroe Enquirer Journal. Contact him at billy? ncpolicywatch .com or 919-861-1460 Article printed from NC Policy Watch: http://www.ncpolicy watch.com Copyright ? 2015 NC Policy Watch. All rights reserved. t

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