Monday, July 22, 2024

No Pride month declaration from New Hanover school board amid policy controversy

The New Hanover County Board of Education will not be issuing a proclamation in support of Pride month after having done so for three years. (Port City Daily/file photo)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The New Hanover County Board of Education will not be issuing a proclamation in support of Pride month after having done so for over three years. 

READ MORE: Post, delete: Social media post supporting Pride deleted after NHC school board member pushes for removal

The board held its regular June meeting last week, and though it discussed a policy change that would prohibit the display of LGBTQ+ flags, it did not issue a Pride proclamation like those issued by the City of Wilmington and New Hanover County.

Port City Daily asked each board member why a Pride month declaration was not included in the June meeting agenda; board members Stephanie Walker and Stephanie Kraybill were the only ones to respond.

Walker told Port City Daily on Monday she planned to bring it forward at the June 4 meeting, as she did last year, but she was unable to attend due to a family emergency.

“I was going to bring it up, though, whether [other board members] wanted it to be or not,” Walker said Monday.

New Hanover is the only school district in the tri-county to do so; the district has been issuing a statement in support of Pride since 2020. It did so last year as well in a 6-1 vote. According to minutes from the 2023 meeting the only dissenter was Josie Barnhart.

“PRIDE is a celebration of sexuality, and as a school system, the point of recognitions on the agenda are for accomplishments in our district,” Barnhart wrote in an email to PCD last June explaining her vote.

Port City Daily also reached out to each school board candidate; Democrats Tim Merrick, Judy Justice and Jerry Jones, along with Republicans Natosha Tew, David Perry and Nikki Bascome. 

Merrick was the only one to respond to PCD’s request for comment by press.

“Every student needs to be honored, and have representation,” he said. “Celebrating Pride month is one way we can tell our LGBTQ+ students that they are accepted and that they belong. Likewise, children of color and differently-abled children can easily feel left out. As can children from other countries. It is our job as a community and as a school district to welcome them, and honor them as part of our community.”

After press, Justice told PCD the Republican board’s actions are part of a national strategy to attack the LGBTQ+ community in order to get support from their base voters.

Jones challenged the political nature of a Pride declaration, positing to PCD that pride is a celebration of the inclusion of all: “What is political about declaring that all students are safe, all students are valued, and all students are embraced?”

A few of their competitors made their points of view known on social media.

On May 30, Tew wrote on her candidate Facebook page that she would vote no to recognize Pride month if voted into office. 

“The LGBT agenda is harming our children mentally and physically. I will absolutely NOT tolerate the sexualization of children, predators normalizing talking about their sexuality to children, or the delusions that come with it,” Tew wrote. “Let’s protect children. Not the adults preying on them.”

Perry also took to Facebook. Accompanying a photo of the Pride flag, the communist hammer and sickle symbol and Superintendent Charles Foust was the following caption: 

“If you are truly concerned that our school district is indoctrinating our students with leftist and Marxist ideologies then perhaps it was a bad idea to renew the contract of a man who is committed to doing just that! Once elected, I will make replacing Dr. Foust my first order of business!” 

Perry did respond to PCD after publication, stating he supports the “equal rights of all individuals, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation.”

“However, the LGBTQ and Pride efforts nowadays go far beyond the mission of securing equal rights,” Perry said. “These efforts are also pushing hard for full social acceptance of their lifestyle choices by our society. Our school district should not be taking sides in the culture wars, and therefore we should not be supporting Pride Month. Instead, we should be concentrating on providing a high quality education to all of the students that parents have entrusted us to educate, but not indoctrinate.”

The board’s lack of Pride recognition in 2024 comes as the school district was also instructed on June 3 to remove a Pride post recognizing inclusivity. It stated:

“NHCS believes in the power of diversity and the importance of creating a space where everyone feels valued and respected. Pride Month is a reminder of the progress we have made and the work that still needs to be done to ensure equality and acceptance for all.”

“We withdrew our support at the request of several board members and not by the collective decision of the board made at duly-called and properly noticed meeting,” Kraybill said. 

Walker first informed PCD of its instructed removal by board members, but she nor Kraybill called them out by name. 

Kraybill claimed the decision to remove the post violated Policy 2100, board member legal status; it states: 

“The board of education is a body corporate. Members of the board have authority only when acting as a board legally in session.  The board will not be bound in any way by any statement or action on the part of an individual member, except when such action is at the specific instruction of the board.”

However, the board members requesting the removal claimed the Pride post violated recent amendments made to policies 7300 and 3200. They now limit classroom displays to content regarding the county, state, United States or school curricula as posted in classrooms, school buildings, ball fields, school grounds, and buses — the virtual walls of social media are not included as language in the amendment. 

In a conversation with board chair Pete Wildeboer and Foust, Kraybill said she was told the post could have been a display if students had it up on their computers. 

She pointed out the interpretation of the display policy is the result of some board members’ unwillingness to define display, making it easier to apply the policy to all sorts of things. 

Walker and Kraybill have also suspected the timing of the display changes ahead of Pride month and Juneteenth, a federal holiday that some Black Americans celebrate as Freedom Day, commemorating when slaves were told they were free in Texas. Board members in support of the policy — Wildeboer and Barnhart along with Pat Bradford and Melissa Mason — have not stated restricting Pride or Juneteenth displays was the goal.

Bradford initiated the policy changes, garnering support from her fellow GOP members to push through an emergency policy because of the “anti-American sentiment in our country and state.” As an example, she cited a protest of Israel’s actions in its war with Hamas on UNC Chapel Hill’s campus, where some protestors replaced the American flag with the Palestinian one. 

Kraybill said she has requested to discuss the policies again at the next meeting, though is unsure if she will be obliged. 

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