Tuesday, February 27, 2024

New Hanover County commissioners, board of education meet next week to discuss school safety

The last time the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education met at the same table was Sept. 3, days after a shooting at New Hanover High. (Port City Daily photo/Williams)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — New Hanover County’s Board of Commissioners and Board of Education have called a joint meeting to be held after Thanksgiving break to continue the discussion about school safety initiatives, which began back in early September after the New Hanover High shooting.

Tuesday, Nov. 30 at 2 p.m., the two bodies will join in the Assembly Room of the New Hanover County Historic Courthouse, located at 24 N. Third St.

A spokesperson for the county said an agenda is not yet finalized but it will include an update on the “school safety and community violence investments and priorities.” 

The last time the commissioners and school board members met face-to-face was Sept. 3. During the meeting, without a clear timeline or budget, commissioners voted unanimously to identify the issues that contributed to the shooting event and begin funding solutions.

Since then, county staff has been working on an elaborate and multi-million dollar plan to address community violence and improve school safety, without any open discussion with the school board. The county manager has spoken with teachers, school staff and central office representatives, among others, in private to develop the spending strategies. An $89-million rough framework, shared with the commissioners in October, included $43 million for hardscape improvements on campuses.

Before the September meeting, the last time the two boards met was in March. It was the first time in years both bodies had joined at the same table.

Superintendent Charles Foust, who joined the district in September 2020, gave a presentation on his goals for the school system. The assistant superintendent for operations presented on facility needs, with a proposal for a new elementary school in Riverlights, a replacement building for Pine Valley Elementary and renovations to Mary C. Williams Elementary.

The March meeting was called around the same time as the school reopening debates, with the commissioners openly advocating for “Plan A,” allowing students to return to school in person five days a week.

This most recent special meeting announcement was made just days after the school board voted to extend its mask mandate, with a verbal agreement among the members to lift it in January. However, the county spokesperson said a discussion on masks is not included on the agenda at this time.

Commissioners Chair Julia Olson-Boseman, who also serves on the health board, led the charge to immediately drop the countywide mandate during the health and human services board meeting Nov. 12. Days later, the chair of the school board, Stefanie Adams, came out as a proponent of extending the mandate in schools. Her comments, which she saved until the end of the school board meeting, rounded out a lengthy debate and led to the motion to maintain the current policy.

Before the school board’s vote, commissioners appeared to have believed they secured a majority among school board members to rescind the mandate. In an email, Chair Olson-Boseman told one constituent she was “working on it” and believed they had “4 to lift.”

The next vote on the school system’s mask mandate is Dec. 7 during the regular board meeting. A majority of school board members seemed in favor of keeping the mandate until after winter break; per state law, they are required to reconsider their masking policy at least once a month regardless.

The public may attend next week’s joint meeting in person or watch from home on the live stream, available on NHCTV at Spectrum Cable channel 13, NHCTV.com, and YouTube.

Update: The full agenda for the meeting was released Monday afternoon. In addition to the community violence intervention update, the officials will hear updates on teacher assistant pay and mental health care for students and staff as well as presentation on New Hanover County Schools American Rescue Plan fund allocation and spending.

Send tips and comments to alexandria@localdailymedia.com

Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands is a journalist covering New Hanover County and education. Before Port City Daily, she reported for the award-winning State Port Pilot in Southport. She graduated from UNC Charlotte and wrote for several Charlotte publications while there. When not writing, Williams is most likely in the gym, reading or spending time with her Golden Pyrenees. Reach her at alexandria@localdailymedia.com or on Twitter @alexsands_

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