UPDATE: The school board has scheduled a meeting for Wednesday, Sept. 22 to go through the agenda it did not take up Monday, Sept. 13.
Lately the Moore County Board of Education has developed a reputation for meetings that stretch well past 10 p.m., but business scheduled for Monday was left unaddressed in a meeting that never made it past the one-hour mark.
At least three board members arrived at the meeting Monday afternoon in the hope of postponing it — because of a change of venue after a reported threat against at least one school board member.
Board member Robert Levy asked to adjourn before the board went into its regularly scheduled closed session to discuss legal issues. Levy suggested that the meeting be rescheduled to Monday, Sept. 20 at West Pine Elementary, where the Sept. 13 meeting was to have originally taken place. Board members David Hensley and Philip Holmes supported that motion, but it failed on a 3-3 vote. Vice-Chair Pam Thompson arrived late and was not yet present to vote.
Less than an hour later, the full board did vote to adjourn based on a legal technicality surrounding the change of venue announced on Friday, and the district’s vacillation on whether or not to permit a planned anti-mask protest on district property.
“The parents and the citizens who wanted to assemble and had planned an assembly, on any side of the aisle, they are certainly welcome to do that and they have a right to do that, and we disturbed that right,” said Hensley.
“Actually we quashed that right up until a couple of hours ago when the word was changed, and then all of a sudden they don’t have time to reassemble and gather, so we really denied people that right.”
Moore County Schools announced on Tuesday afternoon that the meeting has been rescheduled for Sept. 22 at the district’s central office. The board is scheduled to meet in closed session at 3:30 p.m. with the business meeting beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Monday’s meeting was originally scheduled at West Pine Elementary to allow for a larger turnout in anticipation of robust public feedback during the meeting. But the district announced on Friday evening that the meeting would instead be moved to Moore County Schools’ central office and placed under added security to “help ensure a safe and orderly board meeting while a particular concern is under review.” That extra security included metal detectors for screening.
In its Friday release, the district said that no public demonstrations would be permitted at or outside of the meeting. However it then backtracked on that prohibition early on Monday afternoon.
The district has yet to disclose the nature of the threat. Levy said that he had not been directly threatened, and heard a rumor about the meeting's change of venue on Friday afternoon before being notified by the district.
He added that he knew nothing more specific himself until school officials furnished a “summary” to board members on Monday indicating that the individual planned to protest the district’s mask mandates at board members’ homes.
“I didn’t know the content of the threat until after I was told the meeting was moved and after I was told that the constitutional rights of the people were going to be suspended," said Levy.
“Not only was I personally not feeling threatened, I didn’t think that the content of the threat was any different from some so-called threats that I get every day from angry people. That’s the nature of politics today. The nature of politics is that there are a lot of angry people, but we all must stay in the public eye and assure the public of their constitutional rights.”
So the board met on Monday afternoon as a group of about 100 people rallied outside in protest of student mask mandates. When they emerged after about 45 minutes in closed session, Vice-Chair Pam Thompson moved to adjourn the meeting. Her original motion included moving the meeting to Thursday at the district’s central office.
Hensley objected. He said that during closed session board members had decided Monday's meeting was not publicized appropriately per North Carolina’s open meetings law and that therefore they could not make a legally valid decision.
Monday’s agenda included a vote on plans to gather community feedback on a set of student surveys proposed for administering in the spring, as well as a schedule for future votes on mask mandates as the school year goes on. The state recently passed a law requiring local school boards to review COVID-19 trends and call new votes on masking on a monthly basis.
North Carolina required public schools to enforce mask mandates during the 2020-2021 school year. But this year the state has punted that debate to the local level by giving individual school districts the option not to require masks. As of early September, only three of the state's 115 school districts are mask-optional. Harnett County’s board of education chose Monday night to return to mask-optional on Oct. 5.
The school board was also slated to continue discussion of the ongoing effort to sell the old Aberdeen Elementary and Southern Pines Primary campuses.
But board members did not agree on a new date or location for their September business meeting in open discussion. Thompson amended her motion only to adjourn the meeting, which was approved by a unanimous vote.
That meeting was rescheduled Tuesday afternoon for Wednesday, Sept. 22 at 6:30 p.m. in the boardroom at the central office on U.S. 15-501 in Carthage. A closed session begins at 3:30 p.m.