| Southern Coalition for Equal Protections Under the Law
The greatest protection for child sexual perpetrators is secrecy (quietness). The greatest protection for victims is openness (noise). For at least 20 years, quietness has ruled timid school boards, and children within the system who have been sexually abused by multiple perpetrators.
Over the years I have encountered my share of mishaps within church and the first inclination was always quietness. Two girls caught kissing in the bathroom, two senior men with clenched fists about to fight at the end of worship, an older male choir member joking about a minor child in a sexually explicit manner, and the list goes on. All incidents if not kept quiet could adversely hinder church growth and stability. For some reason, New Hanover County Schools kept quiet about child sexual abuse and the cost has been tragic.
The school system has quietly acknowledged some past transgressions. But such simple acknowledgement rings hollow and insincere without bold remedy to clean up permanent stains left on children and parents who suffer as we speak.
Who are some of these real victims? 1) Parents and children cheated out of a fair opportunity for their children to participate in a rigged Spanish Immersion enrollment program, 2) families (the Johnsons, for one) who have been intimidated by administrators who have left the school system without being fired, and most dramatically: 3) child sexual abuse victims with traumas that can never be washed away.
Our school system stands in profound debt to many parents and children.
Importantly, students in school rooms are not allowed to just simply acknowledge their failures. They are asked to act, to revisit failures and create remedies. Students should not have to be role models for school boards. It should be the other way around. New Hanover County Schools turning away from fair compensation to victims of sexual abuse and discrimination has and will make a mockery of any claim of accountability.
In December 2018 and throughout the spring of 2019 the school board attempted to quieten me and citizens who sought a school board investigation into sex abuse and discrimination. The citizen’s request was for specific investigations and was made prior to an SBI investigation, now going on two years long, made necessary by New Hanover County school boards nurturing and embracing quietness.
Among other issues facing New Hanover County Schools today is a simple decision to administer a student survey that seems reasonable, inexpensive, and necessary in a system marred by scandals. But student surveys create noise. Pushback from New Hanover County school leaders has recently sought to eliminate a simple survey question regarding sexual abuse. The need for timid quietness should never trump the need to protect children.
Quietness and illusions go together. Creating illusions that lead to quietness is an organizational tactic. Since the George Floyd incident, school systems have seen a surge in committees, initiatives, employee training videos and seminars — all under the protective umbrella of citizen-paid attorney advice. This is occurring while the recent past is forgotten, and leadership seems to embrace the same old norms of quietness and illusion. Black people get hired with high hopes that white and Black community members will become satisfied, pacified, happy, and quiet.
We would not be involved in an ongoing SBI investigation if New Hanover County school boards had accepted citizen noise for accountability and remedy. There would be no need for a scramble to set up new committees and hire new leaders. The system would not have had to pay off one superintendent and hire another. Noise would have been welcomed. Illusions, not necessary.
We can only hope that practices of true accountability and remedy are on the horizon in New Hanover County.
Rev. Dante’ A. Murphy, Southern Coalition for Equal Protections Under the Law