Mom wants accountability for lack of learning, racial disparity in suspensions at Durham school

January 25, 2019
Fatimah Salleh concedes that her teenage son, Micah, was horse-playing in the lunchroom and deserved in-school suspension.

A Durham mother was back before school board leaders Thursday night to demand change.

Fatimah Salleh spent two days last year with her son in in-school suspension at the Durham School of the Arts, only to come out disturbed by what she described as a troubling experience.

Salleh said she initially attended ISS with her son, Micha, because she wanted to prove to him that the experience wasn’t as bad as he had described. After spending two days in in-school suspension, she found that the punishment consisted of desks that faced walls and what she called a lack of learning.

On Thursday night, she was backed by many others as she not only addressed the lack of curriculum, but the disproportionate number of students of color in ISS.

“You have an underbelly that we’re not addressing. I need you to be accountable. I need you to have your equity teams in there and see what’s going on,” Salleh said to school board members. “I know I’m not speaking only on behalf of Micha, but a lot of young people whose parents maybe couldn’t afford to spend two days in ISS to find out what this looked like.”

Salleh removed Micha from the Durham School of the Arts at the end of the 2017-2018 school year, but has a younger son who still attends. It was when the younger son acted up and ended up with in-school suspension that Salleh took to social media with her concerns.

On Thursday night, she went before the school board to ask that they take a closer look at how in-school suspensions are handled and why, she says, during one of her visits, nine of the 11 students in the ISS class were black males.

“I need you to be accountable to why so many black, brown boys are down there,” Salleh said.

Salleh was backed by several people who also addressed the board to ask for accountability. Salleh said school board leaders have reached out to her personally, and she is hopeful.

“They assured me they’re on top of it. They assured me that I was heard,” she said.

Durham Public Schools Superintendent Pascal Mubenga released a statement that says, in part, “We have been transforming our schools’ approach to discipline. We believe in restorative justice, including turning our in-school suspension programs into restorative practice centers.”