A Halifax County private school which was founded as a reaction against racial integration efforts in the 1960s has re-opened as a taxpayer-funded public charter.
North Carolina Director of Charter Schools Dave Machado attended Wednesday’s opening ceremony and praised the school’s transformation, saying “They kept coming back with stronger applications and I just think it’s exciting to see this large population of very diverse students. It’s exactly what a charter school should look like.”
Hobgood’s charter application was laser focused on giving children a way out of poverty through education. It noted that “the potential exists to turn the tide of poverty in this community through excellence in education” and referred to Hobgood as “the perfect place to impact the most vulnerable of our children.” Hobgood’s professional development plan for teachers also includes diversity training using Ruby Payne’s A Framework for Understanding Poverty–materials which have been criticized by some for reinforcing biases and ignoring the systems that actually perpetuate poverty.
While goals of helping children of poverty and working toward more integrated schools are laudable, they’re also effective marketing points for a private school whose only hope in staying open may be to turn charter.
During Hobgood’s campaign to convert to a public charter school, a Google Site called “Let’s Charter Hobgood” was set up to organize and inform the school’s parents. After Rodney Pierce and I published a piece about Hobgood in the Washington Post, access to that site was restricted. (I copied its contents beforehand and you can still view it here.)
The Hobgood parent site confirms that the primary reason behind the school’s desire to become a public charter was not to increase diversity and expand opportunity for children of poverty at all. Rather, it was to allow children who already went to the 87% White school to continue to attend it, instead of going to Halifax County Schools, where only 4% of students are White. According to 2010 census data, Halifax County’s residents are 40% White and 53% Black.
The site referred to the steady increase in tuition and corresponding decline in enrollment as “deadly thin ice,” holding up other area private schools that had previous closed as ominous examples of what could happen if something didn’t change. Hobgood’s charter application to the state also mentions “significant decline in enrollment” and acknowledges that the school’s $5,000 a year tuition may be a barrier to some families.
Hobgood parents who had concerns about converting from a private school to a public charter had raised questions to those leading the charge, and a handful of answers to those questions were posted to “Let’s Charter Hobgood.” One of the answers reads “No current law forces any diversity whether it be by age, sex, race, creed.” The question is missing, but it’s not hard to figure out what those parents were worried about.
It’s no coincidence that the history of Hobgood Academy is also rooted in desire by Halifax County’s White community to resist efforts at racial integration, as 2019 North Carolina Council for Social Studies Teacher of the Year and Halifax County native Rodney Pierce chronicled in a Twitter history lesson earlier this year:
Hobgood Academy was founded in 1969 and opened in September 1970. IMO, this was a direct response to the U.S. Justice Department’s rejection of the Halifax County Schools District’s plan of desegregation in March 1969 that did not comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The county’s White residents resisted integration in public education so much so that the late Rep. Thorne Gregory, who was from Scotland Neck, actually filed a bill in January of 1969 to establish a separate school district for his hometown.
Blacks made up only 18 percent of the town’s population at the time and the bill would allow the town’s mayor and commissioners to set up a five member school board and establish a supplemental school tax of 50 cents for each $100 property valuation. Additionally, there were 8,000 Black students and 2,300 White pupils in HCS, a ratio of nearly 4:1.
Thorne’s bill passed the House in February 1969 and the Senate in March, with some impassioned pleas from late Senator Julian Allsbrook of Roanoke Rapids. The Justice Department filed suit against the district in June 1969 and the case was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of the plaintiffs in June 1972 (U.S. v. Scotland Neck City Board of Education).
Given the proximity of the town of Hobgood to the city of Scotland Neck, and the history of White residents of Scotland Neck attempting to establish their own separate public school district, I don’t think it’s a reach to think that some of those families who resisted integration banded together to start a private academy for their children.
Demographic data for the newly christened Hobgood Charter Academy is not yet available on the North Carolina Department of Instruction’s statistical profile, so it remains to be seen whether its racial composition has significantly changed to resemble anything close to that of the county around it.
What is clear is that North Carolina’s newest charter school will now receive more than $2 million in state funds. The majority of that tab will be paid by Halifax County Schools via charter pass-through transfer funding, taking resources away from students in one of North Carolina’s poorest counties.