NHC school board approves school calendars, debates future of Title IX Committee
At Monday evening’s New Hanover County Board of Education meeting, members passed traditional school calendars for the next two years — and scheduled an upcoming work session to determine the future of the Title IX Committee. They also heard representatives of 'Student Voice' and 'Teacher Voice'
At the board’s monthly meetings, they typically have their ‘Call to the Audience’ period earlier in the evening, but members debated whether to strike language from a policy to change this time. However, a majority of the members decided to keep this intact, with Board Members Pat Bradford and Josie Barnhart dissenting, saying they wanted the flexibility to move the public participation slot.
Board Member Melissa Mason signaled this wouldn't work out for staff or people with families if it was moved later into the evening. Board Member Stephanie Kraybill said she feared the audience participation period could get cut if the board's other business lasted longer than four hours.
During this meeting's ‘public call’ about 20 people came out to speak, and just over half of them spoke in favor of altering policy 4351, which outlines rules for short-term suspensions.
These community members, mainly from the group Love Our Children, said they wanted requirements for administrators to meet with parents or guardians before suspending a student.
They also brought up issues with the district disproportionally suspending Black students — and because of this, they’ve lost $4.5 million in federal funding for its exceptional children (EC) population. These advocates say they still want answers as to why this wasn’t presented publicly at a board meeting until May 2023. These federal sanctions started taking place five years ago.
Another recent report, ‘The Consequences of Cops in North Carolina Schools’ by the ACLU found that Black students are referred to police far more than White students, which included data from New Hanover County Schools.
Student Voice/Teacher Voice
The board is now hearing from two educational groups at each of their monthly meetings: Student Voice and Teacher Voice.
Several students from the Student Ambassador Team, representing Student Voice, presented to the board about what’s working in the district — and what’s not.
For what’s going well, the students say that teachers and principals are being responsive to their ideas and concerns. They also describe having adequate technological resources and expanded elective choices.
However, this group also said that there are issues with overcrowding, school security, and book restrictions.
On the overcrowding issue, toward the end of the meeting, board members took note. Board Member Hugh McManus said he wanted a school bond on next year’s ballot, in particular, to deal with New Hanover High School’s aging building.
McManus mentioned that NHHS should be totally redone — and that he and Board Chair Pete Wildeboer are on a school bond committee, which is in the process of reaching out to the county commission about this overcrowding, and the possibility of building new schools.
With the recent removal of Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You out of the district’s classrooms, the students from this group said there is concern over “banned book lists stifling diversity of thought.” (You can find their presentation at the end of this report.)
For the Teacher Voice segment, New Hanover High School Teacher of Year Taylor Henderson presented the findings from the school's RISE (Relationships Inspire Student Empowerment) program, created to ensure that EC students — those with “intense behavior and academic needs” — are served adequately.
Henderson said since implementing RISE, passing rates for math and English tests improved, as did the decreasing number of discipline referrals the students received.
They attribute some of the success of the program to smaller class sizes, year-long courses, and highly individualized instruction.
Calendars, Title IX discussion
The board also unanimously passed traditional calendars for the next two school years. High schoolers will continue to take their exams in January after the December holidays. And if the state allows for more flexibility in the academic year, then the board signaled they would revisit the decision. (You can view the selected calendars at the end of this report.)
The board also voted to discuss the future of the Title IX Committee at an upcoming work session, with Kraybill and Mason dissenting, with Kraybill saying the committee’s work had been completed, and that the district’s Title IX Office will oversee the law and duties associated with these regulations.
As for the department’s employees, former Title IX Coordinator Jarelle Lewis left the district to work at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. John Henry took his place as the Executive Director/Coordinator of the office. Title IX Investigator Leah Bressler and Administrative Assistant Patricia Kodetsky also support the office's work.
Kraybill went through the history of the Title IX Committee, saying it was a non-partisan committee created under the former Republican Chair Lisa Estep after several NHCS teachers were found to be sexually abusing students.
Kraybill cited the accomplishments of the committee. She said it had finished conducting a Title IX survey and Title IX athletics audit, and instituted various programs and trainings that students and staff have undertaken since 2019.
As a result of the Title IX athletics audit, New Hanover County did allocate $1.5 million to improve Hoggard’s softball complex and $1 million for a similar complex for New Hanover.
However, Board Member Stephanie Walker said there was still more follow-up work with the survey and the athletics audit. Board Member Melissa Mason said she would be in favor of having a quarterly report from the Title IX Office, but the other members said they wanted to talk more about the committee’s future.