HIGH POINT — The city commission charged with studying slavery reparations for Black residents now has additional tools and time to carry out its mission.
The City Council on Tuesday approved a $45,000 budget request for the One High Point Commission and granted it a three-month extension to finish its work.
The funds will be used to hire content experts to help with research in areas including history and socioeconomics, as well as a project manager to help guide the commission. The budget also includes $5,000 to facilitate community information sessions about the project.
The council voted 7-2 to approve the funds, with Mayor Jay Wagner and Councilman Wesley Hudson opposed.
The budget amendment is in addition to $20,000 the city allocated last year to hire outside facilitators to work with the commission, which began meeting in June.
The board has been slowed at times by controversy that culminated in the removal of one of its members, Dawn Paige, by the council in November for what was termed a pattern of disruptive behavior, including her arrest at a council meeting in October.
Paige was a staunch advocate of the position that reparations must be only in the form of direct cash payments by the government to the descendants of slaves.
The commission has since moved away from this view toward an approach that considers reparations to be “restorative economic policies,” rather than any type of payment from the city.
It was supposed to complete its final report by June 2023, but asked the council for a seven-month extension, which would give it until January 2024.
The council on Tuesday instead extended the deadline to Sept. 18, 2023, by a vote of 6-3.
Those in favor of the shorter extension said they wanted the commission’s final report done before the current council’s term ends in December 2023.
“I have a lot of heartburn over the idea that we’ve created this commission and then we’re being asked essentially to hand it off to the next council, and we never have to deal with the results of this commission,” said Wagner.
He and council members Michael Holmes, Victor Jones, Britt Moore, Monica Peters and Chris Williams voted in favor of the September deadline.
Councilman Cyril Jefferson said he favored giving the commission until January so it had ample time to finish its work.
“This body is not going to vote on any of those recommendations before November or December,” he said. “Whatever recommendations there are regarding restorative economic policies are going to take a mountain of study of the feasibility of that.”
GUILFORD COUNTY — A nearly $15 million federal grant will help expand mental health services for Guilford County Schools students, officials said Tuesday.
This is the latest of several announcements the past few months of efforts to address rising mental health problems in schools, many of them exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The School-Based Mental Health Services grant from the U.S. Department of Education will allow GCS to expand on-demand mental health services at 61 schools and pay for 16 new full-time mental health clinician positions over the next five years, GCS said.
The school-based clinicians may be trained in counseling, psychology or social work.
Their addition will help improve the ratios of counselors, psychologists and social workers to students.
The district will also partner with local universities to recruit graduate students to serve in assistantships and fellowships that build their skills and experience in providing school-based mental health services, creating a talent pool of qualified candidates to fill district positions.
The $14.8 million grant will pay for 75% of the cost of these efforts. GCS will contribute the remaining $3.7 million.
Superintendent Whitney Oakley noted that the topic of mental health services has come up for discussion often during her series of “Better Together” town halls.
“Through our community conversations, we’ve spoken a great deal about the need for increased mental health services for both students and staff, and recent tragedies in our community underscore how urgent that need truly is,” Oakley said in a press release. “This funding will allow us to further address the mental health needs and strengthen the resources in our schools to support students and staff.”
The 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey results presented in early January to the State Board of Education also underscored alarming mental health trends among students in North Carolina, including a rising percentage who have considered suicide, especially among high school girls, and growing feelings of loneliness and depression.
Education officials across the country have said that a number of stresses related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including extended social isolation when classes were held remotely and family disruptions caused by severe illnesses or deaths, contributed to the problems.
Last October, using federal relief dollars, GCS launched mental health services at 46 schools to provide on-demand, school-based mental health services to students with parental consent. Nearly 1,000 students signed up within the first month. The district expanded those services to 46 additional schools last month and made services available to all staff.
GCS also announced in November it was using federal COVID-19 relief funds to provide free online mental health support to all teachers and staff who want it through E-Therapy, a telehealth service based in Arizona.
GCS was among six school districts — including the Davidson and Randolph school districts — that the N.C. Department of Public Instruction announced two weeks ago would benefit from an $11 million grant to expand mental health services. The grant announced Tuesday for just GCS is separate from that grant.
GUILFORD COUNTY — A Guilford County board cleared the way Tuesday night for work to begin on the restoration of the childhood home of jazz icon John Coltrane that would become a museum honoring his life and groundbreaking musical career.
The Guilford County Historic Preservation Commission voted to approve a certificate of appropriateness for the renovation of the house east of downtown High Point. The action allows preservationists to go forward with the project.
The High Point Preservation Society last year received a $250,000 grant through the N.C. General Assembly to preserve the nearly century-old historic house. The Coltrane family moved into the Dutch Colonial-style house in 1929.
The restoration of the house will include painting the exterior, reglazing the windows and renovating the portico on the side of the house. The goal of the project is to renovate the house so it appears to modern-day visitors as during a time period when the Coltrane family lived there in the early to middle 20th century.
High Point Preservation Society President Benjamin Briggs told The High Point Enterprise before the meeting that whatever amount of money not spent by this June from the $250,000 grant would have to be returned to the state. So Briggs said the society wants to complete the project by June if possible to maximize the use of money from the grant.
Supporters of the campaign to restore Coltrane’s childhood home at 118 Underhill St. say the two-story house could serve as a site for interpretive history and a museum for fans of Coltrane and jazz. The historic property is formally known as the Blair-Coltrane House.
High Point city leaders have begun to tap into Coltrane’s roots in the city as a way to attract people to visit and recognize High Point’s legacy in the life of the saxophonist and composer who changed the trajectory of jazz worldwide. Coltrane lived in High Point until after he graduated from the former William Penn High School, now Penn-Griffin School for the Arts, and left the segregated South to pursue a jazz career.
For the past 10 years the city has staged a jazz and blues concert named in Coltrane’s honor. The two-day concert at Oak Hollow Festival Park over Labor Day weekend draws thousands of music fans.
The city also erected a statue of Coltrane with a historical marker outside City Hall at the corner of S. Hamilton Street and Commerce Avenue. The statue is a popular photo-op site for locals and visitors.