NHCS Board of Education approves Title IX survey, talks alternatives to suspensions

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — The New Hanover County Board of Education held an interim meeting on Tuesday, discussing a variety of issues.

The board approved a Title IX survey which will ask middle and high school students about sexual misconduct they’ve experienced in schools.

The survey asks students if they’ve ever participated in or witnessed sexual or gender harassment, whether they told an adult about it, and how they felt about the school’s response.

Board of Education and Title IX committee member Stephanie Kraybill says they plan to roll out the survey in September, although they are still working on the details.

“The board decides for surveys, do we opt in or do we opt out, and we’re proposing that we do an opt out survey because then you get more data,” Kaybill said. “If you opt-in then you’re really limiting your pool of people. So we’re really hoping that we get as many or all of our middle and high school students to participate in that.”

This survey comes after several New Hanover County Schools employees were charged with sexual misconduct in recent years.

“We have been working on this initiative for going on three years,” said Angie Kahney, member of activist group New Hanover Educational Justice. “It’s an ongoing issue, it’s not been resolved and it needs to be resolved. Our kids are unprotected, they feel that they’re unsafe and certainly safety has to be the first priority.”

The board also heard new data on school suspensions, and a plan to reexamine student punishments.

Members of New Hanover Educational Justice believe the district’s youngest students should not be subject to suspension, and say the district’s suspension data shows racial disparities.

“The last full school year that was not impacted by COVID was the 2018-2019 school year,” said New Hanover Educational Justice member Peter Rawitsch. “For our elementary students in New Hanover County there were over 1,000 suspensions and 40 percent of those were kindergarten, first, and second grade students. 60 percent of those were Black students even though they only represent 18 percent of the elementary school population.”

In a presentation Tuesday evening, it was announced that teams from eight elementary schools will soon go through 30 hours of training in six different focus areas. The goal is improved student behaviors and school climate.

Assistant Superintendent of Student Support Services Julie Varnam says data shows suspensions have negative effects on students.

“Suspensions are not meant to and do not create behavior change,” Varnam said. “Suspensions create the absence in the classroom, and so really addressing the root cause of the behavior is the more proactive and positive response.”

You can read more about the presentation here.

You can watch the entire Board of Education meeting here.

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