Dare school board has marathon session

Published 6:53 pm Thursday, November 18, 2021

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

On Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, the cafeteria at Manteo Elementary School was filled with parents, students and those prepared to speak with Dare County’s Board of Education.

The meeting, which lasted a little over three and a half hours, opened with 84 young voices of fourth and fifth graders in the Manteo Elementary Chorus, which sang Mi Burrito Sabanero and Rock Around the Christmas Tree.

The business meeting started with a welcome by board member Frank Hester, approving the agenda and a presentation by 17 Manteo Elementary violinists. This after school program is sponsored by the Dare County Youth Orchestra.

Get the latest headlines sent to you

Student and faculty recognitions followed, including the violin students, a literary pumpkin patch from the library and a summer reading program called Barefoot with Books.

Scattered among the crowd were big heart-shaped signs proclaiming “Thank you DCS teachers” and “Thank you DCS students.” Directly behind the podium as a small sign on a column that said “Thank you BOE” with BOE in a heart.

During public comment, speakers largely addressed three issues: for masks and supporting the board; against masks; and critical race theory.

During in person public comment, 22 people approached the podium. Those speaking positively numbered seven, against masks seven and about critical race theory six. Two people addressed other topics.

For 45 minutes, Keith Parker, digital communications and secondary school director, stood at the podium, held a microphone and read 28 emails submitted for the meeting. In those emails, 22 people wrote positively, two negatively and three about critical race theory.

Many of those writing and speaking supported keeping the mask mandate in place so children could stay in school for face-to-face instruction.

“Students love being in the classroom,” said Michel A. Sanchez.

Statutorily, the Board of Education is required to vote monthly on whether or not to modify the face coverings mandate.

Board Vice Chair Margaret Lawler made a motion to not modify the existing face covering policy and Susan Bothwell seconded the motion. The vote was 5 to 2 with board members Joe Tauber and Carl Woody voting no.

The board voted unanimously for supporting a regulation about face coverings. The regulation lets winter sport athletes not wear masks when competing in basketball, indoor track, wrestling and cheerleading.

Critical race theory was a topic of interest to nine speakers. Some speakers said the school board and administration had already pulled out certain parts of black history.

“If you’re going to teach history, you need to teach all history. What part of black history would you want to be pulled out,” queried Betty Selby.

After the meeting, board Chair Mary Ellon Balance and Dare County Schools Superintendent John Farrelly were asked if any action by the board or by the administration had been taken about critical race theory. The answer from both was “no.”

“Sit down and work through these issues,” urged Anthony Leone. “These are hard topics. Work to create a better place.”

In other matters, the board:

– Heard a report from Joanna Parker about Ignite, a professional learning summit offered by Dare County Schools. Some 62 breakout sessions were offered. The sessions were taught by 78 presenters from the system. Participating were 577 instructional staffers. Another Ignite offering will be held Feb. 18 in person at First Flight High School.

– Learned that “coffee with the superintendent” is underway. Time in each school is set aside for staff to speak with Farrelly. A report will be provided to the board.

– Heard a COVID-19 update from Farrelly, who said over the past four weeks, active cases in the system have fluctuated between 20 and 45 cases. Tuesday’s system total was 17 active cases with 33 in quarantine. Farrelly said to move down from high community transmission to a lower level, the number of cases has to hover around 17 in the county. If the number of cases moves downward, then wearing masks may not be required.

Farrelly reported that 93 school districts in the state still have mask mandates. The board agreed for county health director Sheila Davies to attend the December meeting

– Learned a teacher housing subcommittee is formed with board members Frank Hester, Margaret Lawler and Carl Woody. The group has tried to find property on Roanoke Island but to no avail. The Board of Education can solicit for land but cannot purchase it; it must be gifted. Meanwhile, eight units can be added at Run Hill Ridge in Kill Devil Hills for about $2 million, said Farrelly. The Dare Education Foundation will present information at the December board meeting.

– Considered board Policy 3210 – Parent Inspection and Objection to Instructional Materials.

Instructional materials are defined as books and articles, digital content, guest speakers and videos. The policy, originally created 1997 and revised in 2020, sets out a formal process.

The parent makes a complaint. The principal explains how the material is used. If the parent is not satisfied, a formal complaint is registered and a review committee is set up. That committee has a librarian, a technology facilitator, teacher, parent and principal. That committee organizes a packet of material for review and makes a decision.

If the parent is still not satisfied, the complaint is taken to the superintendent who sets up another districtwide committee. If not satisfied, the parent appeals to the Board of Education.

Farrelly said the district has had contact about books, but the complaint process was not initiated by the contact(s).

In the consent agenda, the board approved the donation of about $30,000 to Kitty Hawk Elementary from the school’s PTA. The funds will be used for instructional materials/supplies, cultural events and staff appreciation lunches as approved by the principal.

The next regularly scheduled Dare County Board of Education meeting is Dec. 14, 2021 at Manteo High School.