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NHCS Board officially changes Holliday Stadium to Buccaneers Stadium, discusses the new state social studies standards

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Board Chair Stefanie Adams

At the Tuesday, July 20, New Hanover County School Board virtual meeting, Board Chair Stefanie Adams briefly addressed the lack of decorum at last week’s early adjourned meeting.

“Moving forward behaviors demonstrated on July 13th will not be tolerated, if meeting attendees chose to engage in disruptive behaviors they will be removed per North Carolina general statutes 143-318.17,” said Adams. But she did say that she applauds the passion of the community, that board members do want to listen to the public, but that they have to engage in a respectful way.

Masks, Laney football stadium

There were more than 15 “Call(s) to the Audience” — and a majority of the community members who left messages were against the teaching of the new state social studies standards and critical race theory, even though this is not in the New Hanover County Schools curriculum, according to Chair Stefanie Adams. There were also four audience members who called in to ask the school board to drop the mask mandate in the district.

After the calls, Board Member Stephanie Kraybill, asked if there was a way that NHCS could go around Governor Roy Cooper’s Executive Order that K-12 students wear a mask. A representative from Tharrington Smith, Colin Shive, advised the board not to “go against the Order.”

Editor's Note: As of yesterday afternoon, July 21, Governor Cooper updated the Strong Schools NC Public Health Toolkit that says K-8 should require all children and staff to wear masks indoors — and students in grades 9-12 should ensure anyone who isn't vaccinated should wear a mask indoors. The guidance is effective July 30.

The members unanimously approved the renaming of the Dr. Rick Holliday Stadium at Laney High School to Buccaneers Stadium. But when the school district asked the public to weigh in on the change in an online poll, 52% voted for Larry Tootoo, a former football coach at the school.

The board did end up placing an informational item for the August meeting to discuss renaming the Laney football field after Tootoo, despite Board Member Stephanie Kraybill saying naming a field or a stadium after a person goes against current board policy: “We are not here to debate the wonderful attributes of Mr. Tootoo. We are here to enforce our policy. And I say that at every meeting.”

Legal representation, transparency committee

The board also approved unanimously to put out requests for proposals for legal representation. But, as of now, there is no timeline for changing their current legal counsel Tharrington Smith, LLP, who currently represents the board and the district’s insurance company, which some have called a conflict of interest.

But when it came time to vote on Policy 2230 on how the board conducts its meetings, it passed 4-3, with Board Members Pete Wildeboer, Stephanie Walker, and Judy Justice dissenting, wanting to have more time to review how their agenda is executed. The main change is that the board can hold a work session, which the public can view, before a closed session.

Wildeboer represented an item for discussion, a creation of a Transparency Committee. He said one of the purposes was to have a way to inquire “about any indoctrination” going on in the school system. Wildeboer then gave examples as to what this committee could investigate such as the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction sponsoring a professional development opportunity for culturally responsive teaching, and why the New Hanover County School district didn’t update their personnel policy about preventing teachers from discussing CRT or from engaging in biased teaching like the Brunswick County school district.

Wildeboer said he wanted this ‘bipartisan’ committee to “seek the truth.” He then quoted Lieutenant Governor Mark Johnson, “We want to make sure that children understand the greatness of this nation.”

Judy Justice said that she and Wildeboer are coming at this issue of transparency from different angles, but with the same goal of improving information sharing across the district. She said specifically that indoctrination is not a problem in the school system.

Board Members Stephanie Kraybill and Nelson Beaulieu did not agree with Wildeboer’s idea that they needed another committee to funnel transparency questions. They said they wanted the community to come directly to them with their concerns — and that parents or community members work within that particular school first, like with the principal, over concerns about, for example, a lesson that’s considered biased.

Kraybill went as far as to say that there shouldn’t be a committee to vet concerns for board members, and that, “It’s not our job to represent our parties here on this board. It’s our job to represent the rights and the best interests of the students and the staff.”

Kraybill, along with legal representative Colin Shive, said that Policy 2230, which outlines how committees can be formed, would have to be amended if they wanted to add this new Transparency Committee.

After the discussion, Chair Adams asked Wildeboer if he could create a more concrete plan surrounding this committee, to which he agreed.

New social studies standards, 'Critical Race Theory'

Some of the audience members who called in at the beginning of the meeting had complaints surrounding the new state social studies standards. Assistant Superintendent LaChawn Smith gave a presentation about them, which then prompted Board Member Hugh McManus to ask directly if there were any references to critical race theory in the standards.

Superintendent Charles Foust answered McManus by saying that the new standards, as well as the old ones, do teach about slavery (not to kindergartners he said) and injustices throughout history. Foust mentioned if parents or the community find references to critical race theory he said to give him the name of the course and the lesson plan where they see it — and he will investigate it. But Foust said that individuals are making "blanket statements about what’s being taught." He also took the opportunity to say that the school system is not indoctrinating anyone. He also mentioned that the social-emotional learning curriculum they implement is part of federal and state grants that the school system receives -- and that this learning ultimately helps students who need support.

Wildeboer then took the chance to question Foust and Smith about the terms that show up in the glossary of the new standards such as, “gender identity,” “racism,” “systematic racism,” and “privilege.” Smith did acknowledge that terms such as “bias,” “racism," “competing narratives” are in the glossary. And she said it does define “structural systemic racism” but that term, according to Smith, does not appear in the standards.

Other policies

Board members also discussed their Policy 5070 on public records requests and the fee (25 cents per page for paper copies) that accompanies those records. Board Member Judy Justice said that taxpayers should not have to pay fees to access records, but Member Nelson Beaulieu and Chair Stefanie Adams made the point that these records get into the thousands of pages and to consider the time that the Communications Office spends to collect massive records requests.

All the policies for the second reading passed in the 5000 series — policies that deal with things like visitors to the school, and the prohibition of drugs and alcohol — except for Policy 5015 concerning school volunteers. Board Members Justice and Kraybill raised concerns about the fees that certain volunteers pay to receive a criminal background check to work in the schools.

Justice also asked if Superintendent Foust would be able to speak to adding agenda documents early so that the public and media could have more time to review them. Foust said that the board would have to change its Policy 2335 on agenda items if they wanted those documents posted earlier for public viewing. Foust said initially his priority was for the board to review the agenda documents first and ask questions of him and NHCS staff before they are shared publicly.

Board Member Stephanie Kraybill had also floated the idea that board members would hold a virtual town hall meeting on August 7th but said that some of the members didn’t want to do this (she didn’t say in the meeting who didn’t want to partake), but asked if Foust could take this over and have a public engagement session. He said he would look into it and throw out some dates.

Below: From NHCS' presentation on new social studies standards.