Update 9/11: Note from Don Phipps, Superintendent of Beaufort County Schools, added below.
The Education Town Hall is following a story developing in Washington, North Carolina, a town of 9700 residents about 300 miles south of DC and 30 miles from Greenville. Alumni of Washington High School report that a favorite English teacher, Renee Basnight, one of the few teachers who truly made a difference in their lives, has just been fired.
Ms. Basnight served the school for 23 years, helping to create new writing courses and multicultural curriculum. Alumni say her classroom door was always open and credit her with being their one source of support, getting them through tough times and helping them graduate. One adds, “Ms. Basnight was the only teacher there that gives a damn about Black youth.”
Struggling for Justice
Several students say race was surely a factor in the firing of Ms. Basnight, one of the few black teachers at Washington High School. The teacher herself concurs, adding that she obtained a Master’s degree in school administration in 2013 but has been unable to get even an interview with Beaufort County Public Schools.
According to Ms. Basnight, she was granted a hearing by the School Board but not allowed to discuss documents that had been submitted to the board a month prior to the hearing. Instead, the board said mentioning the documents would be “prejudicial to the superintendent” because he had not seen them.
One former student, now active in ThinkMOOR [Movement of Organized Revolutionaries], associated with the Movement for Black Lives, cautions that much attention is focused on systemic racism in urban school systems, while racism in small towns and rural areas is just as prevalent and more likely to leave individuals affected by it isolated and without group support.
Queries to the Beaufort County Board of Education and the superintendent of schools were not answered at original press time. Don Phipps, Superintendent of Beaufort County Schools, responded by email on the afternoon of 9/10:
The school system is limited in what it can share regarding Ms. Basnight due to state law governing confidentiality of personnel information. I can share with you that the Board of Education voted to dismiss Ms. Basnight on February 23, 2015, after a hearing on the matter. Ms. Basnight appealed this decision to superior court, and a Judge, after a hearing, issued an Order stating the reasons for dismissal and upholding the Board of Education’s decision to dismiss Ms. Basnight. You can request a copy of this Order from the Beaufort County Clerk of Court.
We will update this story as further details become available. TOP
No union represents Beaufort public schools, but they are served by a chapter of the North Carolina Association of Educators. NCAE provided some legal assistance. Ms. Basnight is appealing the ruling but convinced she will not get a fair hearing without additional legal resources, which she cannot afford on her own. If anyone knows of resources to support Ms. Basnight or wishes to contribute to her appeal, use the form below.