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WUNC's American Graduate Project is part of a nationwide public media conversation about the dropout crisis. We'll explore the issue through news reports, call-in programs and a forum produced with UNC-TV. Also as a part of this project we've partnered with the Durham Nativity School and YO: Durham to found the WUNC Youth Radio Club. These reports are part of American Graduate-Let’s Make it Happen!- a public media initiative to address the drop out crisis, supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and these generous funders: Project Funders:GlaxoSmithKlineThe Goodnight Educational FoundationJoseph M. Bryan Foundation State FarmThe Grable FoundationFarrington FoundationMore education stories from WUNC

For Many, Teenage Instagram Photo Of Confederate Flags Speaks To Larger Problems

An Instagram photo posted by a teenager was the reason dozens of people showed up to Thursday’s Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board meeting.

The photo, which has made several headlines, features two girls waving North Carolina regiment flags at a school field trip to Gettysburg. Many say the photo has been interpreted out of context, but for others it speaks to larger issues of racial insensitivity and inequality in the school system and community.

A screen shot, shown above, shows the post and comments before they were taken down.

Taliana Tudryn, a senior at Carrboro High School, saw the photo not too long after it was posted – a friend passed it along.  

“I didn’t see it as an issue that was going to be big at the time, but I immediately felt like crying.” 

Tudryn says she was personally offended as a person of color.

“…and with people who I love who are people of color to see people who pretend to care about us and to pretend to care about learning about our history, and at the same time they’re so ignorant about it,” she explains.

Tudryn shared a lot of those same thoughts during the school board meeting. She got one of the loudest and longest applauses from the crowd.

More than 20 people spoke at the podium during a public comment period.

“I’m here to say that this incident cannot be taken at face value or brushed under the rug,” says Sunny Osment, a senior at Chapel Hill High School. “It is representative of a much larger culture that is perpetuated and upheld by this school district and many, many of its students.”

Credit Reema Khrais
Dozens of people showed up at Thursday's school board meeting for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools to denounce the photo and what it represents.

Osment says school leaders need to address what she calls a racist legacy. She says they need to support students of color and not teach them a whitewashed version of history.

But for a handful of people in the crowd, the entire issue seemed to be blown out of proportion. Especially to Matt Creatore , the brother of the girl who posted the photo.  

“She had no intention to hurt the black community whatsoever. We are good people,” he says.

He says the photo is being taken out of context. The two girls were on a school field trip in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and held the flags while re-enacting Pickett’s charge; they were the “last two standing” in a class activity. The girl’s father also spoke in her defense, arguing there’s not an uprising over confederate flags featured in school textbooks.

They also got the support of Frank McBride. He no longer has kids in the school system, but says he felt compelled to say something. He argues the issue has become a small bonfire.

“Bonfires can be fun and exciting, but at this point, this one is shedding more heat than light,” he says. “And far worst, the fuel we’re throwing on this bonfire is our own children.”

A couple of other people defended the photo, raising the right to free speech. But after all was said and done, the school system’s superintendent, Thomas Forcella, chimed in. He says he’s taking the issue seriously.

“Race does involve difficult issues and we need to really look at how often this happens in our schools, in our halls, comments that are made in the our cafeterias and athletic field,” he explains.

He says the learning community needs to come together with a vision to create more positive environments. When the public comment period was over Tudryn shared her own recommendations.

“There should be days dedicated to talking about race and relevant issues about race because all we learn about race in high school and middle school is that slavery happened [and] racism ended when Martin Luther King was murdered.”

Tudryn says that kind of history downplays any real discrimination some students may experience. And that it makes it difficult to talk about race – that is until someone decides to post a provocative Instagram photo.

Reema Khrais joined WUNC in 2013 to cover education in pre-kindergarten through high school. Previously, she won the prestigious Joan B. Kroc Fellowship. For the fellowship, she spent a year at NPR where she reported nationally, produced on Weekends on All Things Considered and edited on the digital desk. She also spent some time at New York Public Radio as an education reporter, covering the overhaul of vocational schools, the contentious closures of city schools and age-old high school rivalries.
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