Durham school board candidates differ on after-school access issue

Durham school board candidates differ on after-school access issue

By Harlan Brown
April 30, 2010

DURHAM, NC. Board of Education candidates in the May 5 primary election differ on whether groups such as the Girl Scouts and Child Evangelism Fellowship's Good News Clubs should be allowed to use Durham Public Schools buildings after school.

One of the actions taken by Dr. Carl Harris after he became superintendent of Durham Public Schools in 2006 was to bar outside groups from using DPS buildings immediately after school. Outside groups are now allowed to use the buildings only after 6 p.m.

Prior to the action, the main user of DPS buildings for after-school programs was Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF), whose Good News Clubs were in several elementary schools a year and a half from 2005 to 2007. When the Good News Clubs were in the elementary schools, teachers reported noticeable improvement in pupils' attitude and behavior as a result of participation in the Good News Clubs. Since it was not feasible for most pupils to return to school later in the evening, the clubs are no longer held in DPS buildings. According to John Blake, director of CEF in Durham, most of the pupils that were being served are no longer being served.

A spokesperson from the superintendent's office said in December 2006 that Dr. Harris was not implementing a new policy but enforcing an existing school board policy that was not being enforced. The spokesperson said that the policy was being enforced due to "security concerns" involving lack of control when extra people are coming into the buildings and mingling with people who belong there. An example was cited of an intruder coming into a school (not in the Triangle area) and causing problems.

I pointed out that Child Evangelism Fellowship has already addressed security concerns in the following ways:

  • Doing a background check of each adult volunteer in the Good News Clubs
  • Requiring each adult volunteer to wear a name badge with photo ID on it
The spokesperson replied that not all outside groups meet those standards. I suggested that DPS impose those standards as requirements for any group that wants to use the public school buildings immediately after school on a regular basis. I was told that they can't do that. I asked why not. I was unable to get a clear understanding of why the requirements could not be imposed as an alternative to barring outside groups from using DPS buildings after school.

The table below shows where school board candidates stand on the access issue. The names of the three incumbents are in bold font. For candidates for whom I was able to obtain website information, the candidate's name links to his or her website. NR indicates that no response was received to the e-mailed question after three tries.

Should groups such as Girl Scouts and Good News Clubs be allowed to use DPS buildings after school?

District Candidate E-mail address Allow?
1A Donald A. Hughes hughes4durham@gmail.com Yes
Omega Curtis Parker ocparker@yahoo.com NR
John Tarantino john.tino@live.com Yes
2A Fredrick A. Davis pastor@firstcalvary.org Yes
Regina Stanley-King risking22@aol.com NR
3B Christine Baker cbakersinger@yahoo.com NR
Nancy Cox scrapping.nancy@verizon.net Maybe*
4B Wayne Allsbrook wayne.allsbrook@gmail.com NR
Natalie Beyer Natalie.Beyer@gmail.com ??*
Stephen A. Martin steve2martin@yahoo.com No
Shea Neville sheaneville@aol.com Yes
*See the candidate's response under "In their own words" below.

In their own words

Here are the candidates' positions in their own words:

Hughes
Without a doubt, I support allowing outside groups such as Girl Scouts & Good News Clubs back in the DPS buildings after school. In fact, a large part of my campaign for the Durham School Board focuses on opening the doors of our school system (literally & figuratively) to community organizations in order to maximize the positive impact that we are able to have on our students- academically and behaviorally.
Tarantino
First, in spirit I support these groups meeting in any safe environment. If we can address the safety issues I do not have a problem with adding my vote to the voice I would have as a board member. However, a voice can be heard and a single vote is not enough to over power a panel of policy makers if they choose to vote differently. Get enough votes on the board and we can change the policy...and enforce it.
Davis
I believe such named groups can be allowed but they must have School sanction. I am for Groups getting school permission to work with Children for Educational enhancement. I am for schools allowing groups to come support Character Behavior and Self-Esteem, all areas which are key principles in DPS Mission. Of course I am one vote, you need 6 more to change Policy.
Cox
I am good friends through church with David Johnson of CEF and was a Girl Scout leader for several years.
This is a tricky one – I can say that I will look into this as I too agree that the ease of having students attend at school is obvious.

Just using this as an opportunity to share a neat, afterschool program called the Reality center, which is on Gregson just across the street from Durham School of the Arts – I would love to see other churches, especially those that are close to a school, for example, Hope Valley Baptist and Jordan High, adopt such a program.
Beyer
My daughter was a student at Club Boulevard when this policy change was enacted. A Girl Scout troop that had been meeting there for years (and could include kids who couldn't be transported by parents in the afternoon) was forced to find another meeting place. It was just silly. Because of issues of separation of church and state, we should not use these programs for evangelism, but there are many ways that churches and other community groups could serve our students and improve their lives. We need to make sure our policies are bringing our community together with our students to help our children, especially those who struggle with issues of poverty, nutrition, language, lack of support, etc. I'd like work with Durham CAN to explore more targeted programs where we match community groups and churches with geographically close schools to maximize our effectiveness and impact.

I'd love to hear your concerns about this issue and talk with the school attorney to get more clarification of the specific policies. At my church we have very successful programs with schools where we offer support to teachers and students without an outreach/evangelistic component. I think we are able to make a positive impact and demonstrate the love of Christ without preaching or attempting to convert. I think of that as a model to imagine a policy that would permit community groups and churches to work with students (tutoring, social skills, athletics, extracurricular) without trying to convert them to a specific religion. Our students need so much and our community is ready to help.
Martin
As a school board member, I have taken an oath to serve the students first. I don't know that you saw the article today regarding the schools that might be repurposed. Several of the strategies that are being considered would include extended day use by the school system. At this time, I am supportive of the policy as it is being enforced and must support the continued practice of after 6 use.
Neville
I have coached baseball with Parks and Recreation for 3 years and I was granted the use of a middle school baseball field. So, I certainly support the community's ability to use DPS facilities. After all, we are paying for the facilities with our tax dollars. Many other organizations such as churches and even politcal interests frequently use the facilities. However, I understand that it is appropriate to charge a small fee for the after hours clean up that is required. I think non profits are exempt from such fee.

Do I support allowing outside groups such as Girl Scouts and Good News Clubs back in the DPS buildings after school? My answer is YES. It's our duty to the community.
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