Op-ed: Michele Morrow poses a huge threat to NC public schools

Photo: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

By Susan Book

April 24, 2024

Students with disabilities would particularly suffer if Michele Morrow were to become the state Superintendent of Public Instruction, Susan Book writes in an op-ed.

Michele Morrow’s candidacy poses a direct threat to public education. She simply doesn’t believe in public schools as a public good for all. She has been open about her views, calling our public schools ‘indoctrination centers’ and standing at school board meetings, calling for the banning of books. Morrow poses an even deeper threat to students with disabilities.

One of the most striking moments during Morrow’s run for Wake County School Board was when she used a common slur against people with disabilities at a PTA sponsored candidate forum. It’s very hard to overlook or even understand why something like the R word would even be used in this millennium. She even tried to justify it as just an old term. However, it was degrading in the past and it’s degrading now. Language matters and how we speak about each other matters, especially when it comes to children.

Perhaps the most overlooked, but scariest thing about Michele Morrow as a candidate, is her complete ignorance of the workings of our public schools and special education. For starters, based on her own words, Morrow doesn’t know the basic definition of special education. She vowed in a candidate forum to “bring it back”.

What she implied was that special education was a place. She went on to say that allowing students qualified for special education into general education was leading to mediocrity in our schools. She described schools as a place for healthy competition and said disabled students were not able to compete with gifted and talented students. Of course, maybe it never crossed her mind that students with disabilities can qualify as gifted and talented as well.

For the record, special education is not a place. It is a range of services specially designed to meet the needs of any student with a disability. Those services are required by federal law to be in the least restrictive environment. Segregating students is unconstitutional. Her proposal is not only offensive, but also illegal.

In fact, the fight for the right to even go to public schools wasn’t just given to students with disabilities in the beginning. It was a fight won in 1975 with what we now call the Individuals with Disability Education Act, which was further amended in 1990, 1997, and 2004. It’s an ongoing struggle to get services for many families, as well as a fight to get our public schools the resources they need so that every child can succeed. Yet, Morrow speaks up against public school funding.

While Morrow has spoken about Christian Nationalist issues, she has said very little about the crisis facing special education here in North Carolina. First and foremost, we don’t have enough special education teachers and instructional assistants. We simply aren’t paying teachers what they deserve. Our special education teachers are overwhelmed with large caseloads, not enough instructional assistant help in the classrooms, and a lack of general resources and support, all while being paid less than their peers in other states.

The situation is about to get worse as well. With federal COVID-19 relief funds disappearing, our school funding is about to face a cliff. On the chopping block in many counties are instructional assistants. Instructional Assistants are the lifeblood of special education. Yet many counties are going to have to reduce their number, or in some cases, shift them to permanent substitutes to cover more classrooms when full time teachers can’t be found.

Morrow speaks about parental rights, but all she has is right wing talking points. Another right parents have is to have a qualified licensed special education teacher for any child with a disability. Yet I’ve never heard Morrow stand up for that right.

Morrow wants to bring back civility and discipline in schools, but she fails to recognize that North Carolina already leads the nation in suspending students with disabilities, especially disabled children of color. Stats are lagging in restraint and seclusions, but it is clear that we use this traumatic practice on students with disabilities more than any other student group.

Our community for years has spoken up for the need for more nurses, social workers, school psychologists, and counselors. Yet Morrow has no plan to actually help our vulnerable students. She has stated publicly that schools should only do basic academics. This ignores the obvious and real need to address our students’ social and emotional needs. I’m so tired of hearing of arrests and harsh treatment of students of color with disabilities. With Morrow as Superintendent, I fear this will only escalate.

The Department of Public Instruction oversees our public schools. They develop the standard course of study or our curriculum. They allocate vast funds based on state and federal guidelines. The Superintendent of Public Instruction leads this effort. They also sit on the Council of State. Most importantly the Superintendent is our public schools advocate to the North Carolina General Assembly. They will have a large platform to lift up our public schools to leadership. It matters who we elect. It matters that they not only be champions for our public school children, but they understand the basic workings of our school system.

For many, it might be difficult to take an extremist like Michele Morrow seriously. However, she is on the ballot in November, so we must not only take her seriously, but also face the reality of the harm she might do to our public education system and our students. Many voters neglect our council of state and other down ballot races. Please for the sake of all North Carolina children, especially our most vulnerable, don’t skip over this race.

Author

  • Susan Book

    Susan Book is a public school advocate and is a co-administrator for Save Our Schools NC. She is the co-host of the podcast Advocacy Bites. She currently works with the Every Child Coalition. Susan is also an avid writer, blogger, and speaker on issues like education and Disability Rights. First and foremost she’s a public school parent to an autistic son and fights for him and others like him to get a sound basic education.

CATEGORIES: EDUCATION

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