CINCINNATI — About 140 demonstrators from Tennessee disrupted the national NAACP board meeting Saturday, forcing management at the hotel meeting site to call Cincinnati police.
The demonstrators protested the decision by the civil rights organization to call for a moratorium on charter school expansion and the strengthening of oversight in how charter schools are operated.
The board ratified a resolution adopted by delegates in July at the NAACP's national convention in Cincinnati. The charter school resolution was one of 47 adopted Saturday by the board and follows its 2014 support of another delegate resolution that opposes privatization of public schools and use of public money on for-profit charter schools.
The group Memphis Lift, consisting almost exclusively of African-American parents and grandparents, rode three charter buses Friday to Cincinnati to protest the NAACP's decision. Group members left the Westin Hotel Downtown early Saturday morning and moved across Fifth Street to Fountain Square, where they continued to protest and chant: "I won't stop. I can't stop."
Around noon, about half of the group's members, upon learning of the NAACP board decision, walked back across the street, into the Westin and past hotel staff who told them they were trespassing on private property. Many Memphis Lift members rode an escalator to the third floor, where the NAACP board was meeting, and began chanting loudly before police were called.
"We have charter schools that are good," Memphis Lift organizer Sarah Carpenter, a grandmother of 13, said during the protest at Fountain Square. "We are not against public schools. We want good schools of any type. Where was the NAACP when so many public schools were failing our children?"
Cornell William Brooks, NAACP national president, told The Enquirer in an interview that the NAACP has always stood for quality public education and that it and the Memphis protesters are largely in agreement.
"The resolution calls for the suspension on the expansion of charter schools," Brooks said at the Westin, "at least until, No. 1, we subject charter schools to transparent standards of accountability. The same rules for everyone."
The NAACP wants no more public money diverted to charter schools at the expense of public schools, and it calls for charter schools to stop expelling students that public schools then must educate and to stop perpetuating what the NAACP calls "de facto segregation" of highest performing students from those who are currently as successful.
"It does not call for the doomsday destruction of all charter schools in existence now," Brooks said. "What it does call for is let us have a season of reason, a pause in the expansion while we figure this out."
Nationally, about 6,800 charter schools operate in 43 states and educate about 3 million students, according to the National Alliance for Charter Schools.
In September, the U.S. Department of Education announced it would allow Ohio to keep its $71 million grant to expand charter schools but was designating the grant as high risk and increasing oversight to prevent fraud. Ohio's 407 charter schools have 120,000 students, 57 percent of whom are African American.
"We don't want the NAACP to paint us with broad brush strokes," said RaShaun Holliman, president and chief executive of the advocacy group Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools in Columbus, who joined Memphis demonstrators in Fountain Square. "We want to correct some of the ills done in our past. We had some bad actors. That drowns out all of the good that has been and is being done."