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Monday, May 20, 2024

Foust ‘appalled’ at proposed NHCS conduct policy, spars with board member over historical accuracy

Superintendent Charles Foust and the NHCS policy committee discussing standards of professional conduct.

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Tuesday night’s New Hanover County Schools policy committee meeting got heated after school board members again discussed a controversial policy. 

READ MORE: Race, sex teaching guidelines inserted into proposed NHCS policy, language taken from stalled state bill

Policy 7205: Standards of Professional Conduct is a new policy tailored as an easy-to-find, easy-to-understand synthesis of guidelines already encoded in the NHCS rulebook — except for one piece. 

One section of the policy, section Z, prohibits affirming beliefs in topics related to sexism and racism, such as one race or sex is inherently superior or one race or sex is responsible for actions committed in the past. The text also prevents statements promoting violent overthrow of the government or that the rule of law does not exist. 

The policy has been on the school board’s docket since September and previously passed the policy committee, only to be reverted back for further review of section Z.

On Tuesday, Superintendent Charles Foust let his feelings on it be known.

“It’s offensive,” Foust said. “I don’t know any other profession that would treat their employees as such. I mean, I’m just appalled and I’ll say that and I’m going to stop there because I don’t want to say more.”

The policy text is the exact language used in one provision of House Bill 187, introduced in February in the General Assembly and co-sponsored by Rep. Frank Iler (R-Brunswick). The bill did not pass either chamber. 

How it ended up in as an addendum in the NHC policy is still a mystery; Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Christopher Barnes said section Z was brought to staff by Jonathan Vogel, the district’s legal counsel. Voguel denied this. 

Submitted on Oct. 18, a Port City Daily records request for email exchanges between the two men has yet to be fulfilled. 

Barnes said at Tuesday’s meeting section Z did not fit in with the rest of the policy and questioned how it would be enforced. 

Chief Academic Officer Patrice Faison was also concerned about the prohibited statements conflicting with the North Carolina standards. 

Assistant Superintendent Julie Varnam reported social workers and counselors had concerns the policy could be interpreted to prevent an employee from expressing who they are for fear of being accused of indoctrinating students. 

Still, board member Pat Bradford pushed for the language to be included to hold “rogue” teachers accountable.

“Rightly or wrongly, there are a plethora of people in our community — parents, stakeholders, taxpayers — who believe that in some schools, in some of our district, some of these things are actually happening,” Bradford said. 

The vice-chair didn’t provide any evidence that employees were teaching what section Z addresses. Bradford stressed the standard would be taught, but students should also be taught the U.S. Constitution ensures “all Americans are treated equal.”

Foust again pushed back.

“The Constitution was not written for me,” Foust, who is Black, said. “I don’t want us to get into this, but the Constitution was not written with me in mind.”

He told the committee he would have been a slave when the Constitution was written, would have counted as only three-fifths of a person, and would have been prohibited from learning to read. 

“I live this everyday and for people to sit around and tell me — and I hate that I’m getting emotional — but for people to sit around who don’t look like me who’s not been through what my parents have been through and want to tell me what people are doing — that’s wrong on so many counts,” Foust said. 

Foust reported he met with an unnamed group three years ago with similar concerns as Bradford’s, though he said they brought him no proof teachers were impressing certain beliefs on kids. 

Faison again advocated for more consideration for teachers.

“They’re not doing anything wrong now, but when you put things like this in place, you’re implying that they are,” Faison said. “To put all of our teachers in that situation for that, when we have no fact for it, I just don’t think it’s fair. I shouldn’t say that, but I’m just thinking about our teachers.”

She explained the state standards call for uncomfortable parts of history to be taught, for example, how the United States was built on slavery. 

“That’s the past, this is now, going forward,” Bradford said.

Kraybill added her piece as well. 

“We have to teach that to our students so that history does not repeat itself and we don’t put into place laws and policies and procedures that inherently exclude people,” Kraybill said. 

Bradford ended the conversation with a final note to her point. 

“The Constitution has not always been applied fairly, but that is the goal going forward. It’s great to look at the mistakes of the past. I didn’t get the right, my lineage, the women in my family got the right to vote after you did,” Bradford said. 

Ultimately, the committee decided to hold the policy in committee for further discussion.


Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com.

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