REIDSVILLE — With a 5 to 1 vote, Rockingham County School Board members axed grant funding for school staff equity training Monday night and decided to return $16,000 to an area non-profit.

Equity training has been a contentious subject among board members and the public for months, with some citizens telling the board such diversity training is tantamount to “white bashing.’’

Meanwhile, community minority and educational foundation leaders have countered equity training is an essential and balanced way for staff to understand the populations it serves.

Rockingham County Schools, with 38 percent non-white pupils, serves a district in which 60 percent of kids live in low-income homes and 22 percent are not expected to graduate high school, according to county demographic statistics and data compiled by various non-profits.

Additionally, the county’s pre-kindergarten classrooms host 44 percent minority students and 68 percent of Head Start pupils are non-white.

Endorsed by the North Carolina Board of Education as good practice, equity training is nearly universal in school systems across the state and nation. It is a type of professional development designed to increase staff sensitivity and awareness to the needs and fair treatment of all types of minority students, as well as pupils with special needs.

The Reidsville Area Foundation, a local non-profit that has long supported the school system, allocated $35,200 in grant money to RCS expressly for equity training over two years.

RCS used about $18,000 of that to complete the first year of training through a contract with University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

But Monday night’s action means the board will return the balance of roughly $17,000 to REF after its voted to cut further training funding.

Board member Doug Isley made the proposal to remove funding before the board voted to approve the proposed 2019-2020 budget during its regular monthly meeting held at Reidsville High School auditorium.

His motion, seconded by board member Bob Wyatt, passed with five members voting against funding the continuation of training. The board’s sole minority member Amanda Bell, who is black, voted against elimination of the diversity training.

Before the vote on Isley’s proposal, retired educator Bell reminded fellow board members, three of whom were seated in January, the state board of education includes equity training as “part of their strategic plan.’’

“We, as a board, have a certain responsibility — not only to teachers, but to our students,’’ Bell said. “We have been funded by the Reidsville Education Foundation, and I wonder what kind of message we are sending to foundations supporting (RCS),’’ Bell said. “I would hope we would rethink removing (the program).’’

Board co-chairman Paula Rakestraw said, “It’s your board’s responsibility to make sure we are endorsing appropriate training.’’ Rakestraw could not be reached for comment to elaborate.

Calls to Brent Huss, board chairman, were not returned before press time.

The Reidsville Education Foundation has awarded nine active grants to RCS, including the two-year equity training funds. The value of those grants, with some spanning five years, is $531,200, explained REF Executive Director Jennifer Coleman Nixon.

Nixon appeared at past school board meetings with a dozen or so citizens who make up the pro-equity training group called the Racial Equity Learning Community.

Nixon could not be reached for comment.

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Susie C. Spear is a staff writer for RockinghamNow. She can be reached at 743-333-4101 and on Twitter @SusieSpear_RCN.

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