Update: NHCS provided Port City Daily with the policy committee membership on Jan. 12. After publication, PCD was notified the board membership had been changed and was given the current committee makeup. This article has been updated to reflect the changes.
NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The majority of the New Hanover County Board of Education voted to send a contentious amendment on transgender sports participation back to the policy committee.
Policy 3620 outlines participation requirements for extracurricular activities and student organizations. In June 2021, the board voted 5-2 to amend the policy to allow middle school students to play on the sports team that aligns with their gender identity. (High school students’ participation is based on assigned sex, or gain approval from the North Carolina High School Athletic Association).
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The amendment will now be reviewed again by a newly appointed policy committee, put together by board chair Pete Wildeboer. He named Republican Josie Barnhart committee chair, to be joined by fellow party members Pat Bradford and Stephanie Kraybill, the latter of which voted in favor of the amendment’s passage last year.
Sports participation for transgender students is a nationwide topic and part of a larger discourse on the rights of LGBTQ+ minors. Multiple states with Republican-controlled legislatures have restricted access to sports, often banning transgender girls and women from participating on female teams. Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly proposed passing a similar bill last year, but it was not taken up for consideration by the House.
House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland, Rutherford) told the Associated Press there was no need to take up the bill at the time because “we are not really hearing any complaints about that where it’s an issue.”
Members of the community already began to denounce Tuesday’s actions. A petition criticizing discriminatory policies or actions has been signed by 284 community members.
Jessica Cannon, co-founder of the liberal educational accountability group Suit Up Wilmington, emailed Bradford the day after the meeting.
“While you may have your rationale for taking this vote, please understand that it will be perceived as homophobic and punitive by the LGBTQ+ kids in our county,” Cannon wrote. “When you took your oath, it was to protect all of the kids in our public schools, not just the ones your religion or your political party deems acceptable.”
At the school board’s Tuesday meeting, Vice Chair Pat Bradford voiced her concern over the amendment’s passage last year. During agenda review, she requested to add a discussion of the policy due to “procedural” reasons. The addition passed 5-2; Stephanie Walker and Kraybill dissented.
When the board got to the agenda item hours later, Bradford claimed the previous board violated policy when they voted to waive the amendment’s first reading in June 2021.
“That night we got it wrong,” she said during the meeting.
It is typical for the board to present policies at one meeting — their first reading — but wait to vote on them at a second meeting. However, policy 2410 stipulates amendments to current policies do not require second readings, whereas new policies may not be proposed and voted on at the same meeting. As long as the amendment is on the agenda, the board may vote on it.
The amendment to policy 2620 actually went through two first readings. The first was in April 2021, when it was sent back to the policy committee. The June meeting was a second time.
The vote to waive the first reading in June was 4-3, Walker and former board members Nelson Beaulieu, Stefanie Adams and Judy Justice in favor; Wildeboer, McManus, and Kraybill dissenting. However, Kraybill approved of the policy amendment in the subsequent vote.
Beaulieu led the effort to bypass the first reading via participation over video call; Wildeboer asked for clarification Tuesday on whether Beaulieu, who signed off before the meeting’s conclusion, violated policy.
Policy 2302 states “a board member participating in a meeting remotely shall use his or her best efforts to participate in all or as much of the meeting as circumstances permit and not merely for the closed session portion of the meeting or a limited number of agenda items.”
Under the same policy, a board member participating virtually cannot vote on an item in which they were not present for discussion. Also, a board member must be excluded from a vote if their connection was interrupted during discussion and the meeting was not suspended to allow for the connection to resume. The board did not cite either of these issues during the June vote.
Wildeboer did not return a request for clarification by press, so it is unclear if he was suggesting at Tuesday’s meeting that a potential violation from Beaulieu rendered the vote invalid.
During discussion, Kraybill was frank about why she thought her fellow Republican board members wanted to rescind the first-reading vote.
“I just think this is a backdoor attempt for you to take away the rights of transgender students and to not provide equal opportunities for all of our students,” she said during the meeting. “So, if that’s what you want to do, say it out loud.”
Port City Daily reached out to Bradford to discuss the policy; she said she would not have time to do so.
The vote to rescind the first reading passed 4-3; Mason, Kraybill and Walker dissented. The latter two cited concerns over violating Title IX and stripping protections for transgender students. Mason was quiet during discussion ahead of the vote and didn’t respond to PCD about her reasoning. McManus also did not respond to requests for comment by press.
Bradford then made a motion to vote on the amendment to the policy, claiming it was now up for second reading. She was reminded by the NHCS attorney that the board is barred from taking action on the policy because it was not listed on the published agenda.
The recommendation from the policy committee, which does not have a meeting scheduled at this time, will return to the board for final vote. In the June 2021 vote, Walker and Kraybill voted in favor of the amendment, while Wildeboer and McManus voted against it.
Port City Daily asked Barnhart if she planned to amend policy 3620.
“At this time I am collecting input from board members,” Barnhart said.
Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at firstname.lastname@example.org
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