Thursday, September 29, 2022

2022 Election: Melissa Mason campaigns for a seat on NHCS board

Melissa Mason, a Republican, is running for New Hanover County Board of Education in 2022. (Courtesy photo)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Melissa Mason, a Republican, is striving for one of the four seats on the New Hanover County Board of Education in 2022.

Port City Daily has sent a questionnaire to every candidate running in local elections in the tri-county region.

Mason’s stances on issues are discussed below. All answers are included in full; the candidate’s opinions and statements are not a reflection of Port City Daily. Responses are edited only for grammar, spelling and clarity.

The paywall is dropped on candidate questionnaires to help voters make informed decisions ahead of Election Day.

To prepare, here are a few dates for readers to keep in mind:

  • Absentee ballots will be available Sept. 9 and have a Nov. 1 deadline.
  • Registration to vote will open until Oct. 14; afterward, according to the state board of elections, same-day registration only will be available during one-stop early voting. 
  • Early voting begins Oct. 20 and remains open through Nov. 5 (3:30 p.m.).
  • Election Day polls open Nov. 8, 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Locations to vote early in New Hanover County include CFCC Health Sciences and Learning Center (415 2nd. St.), Carolina Beach Municipal Building (1121 Lake Park Blvd.), CFCC North Campus (4500 Blue Clay Rd.), Northeast Library/Board of Elections (1241-A Military Cutoff Rd.), and the Senior Center (2222 S. College Rd.).

Once early voting closes, voters will need to go to the location listed on the voter registration card.

To see a sample ballot for the upcoming election, fill in voter registration info here.

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Port City Daily (PCD): Tell us your top three concerns within the school district and how do you plan to address them? 
Melissa Mason (MM): Parent Rights: Parent rights are under attack in this district. School policy and practice keeps parents in the dark. The Covid-19 lockdown created an opportunity for the board to usher in policies and curriculum changes of which many parents did not desire or approve: opt-out surveys, hiding student information from parents, and stonewalling parents’ attempts to find out what is happening in schools. I will fight to repeal policies that keep crucial information from parents, and I will approach parents as partners, not adversaries.

Safety: Students have a right to be safe. Schools must be made safe. Kids living in fear don’t learn. We need more school resource officers and background checked volunteers. This will encourage positive behavior and strengthen community relationships.

Restoring trust: Parents have lost trust in district leadership. Thousands of students have left the district for schooling alternatives.

Superintendent Dr. Foust has violated his contract and general statutes dozens of times, including acting without board approval to create a new central office position and appoint someone to it, failing to address seclusion room abuse, and overseeing a disastrous decline in educational outcomes.

In 2021, in an effort to silence community dissent, Foust sought to press charges against members of our community who were seeking redress for their grievances.

Foust used intimidation to stifle others’ free speech. I’m calling for Dr. Foust to be fired for cause, and I will demand transparency and responsiveness from the administration.

PCD: The school board has stalled on a decision to end the practice of seclusion in schools for months. What indicators are you looking for to end the policy? Can you commit to ending the practice by a certain date?
MM: The use of “seclusion” is the practice of solitary confinement; children are placed in a 6-foot-by-6-foot-padded room without the ability to leave on their own. Under state law, seclusion rooms may only be used as a last resort, but New Hanover County schools seem to be using them solely as a disciplinary measure or punishment.  

Seclusion is psychological abuse. It must be stopped immediately. The argument that we must keep abusing our students until we find an alternative behavior modification technique is absurd, dishonest, and morally repugnant. 

As a teacher, I know seclusion is not necessary. I worked for 13 years with special needs students in a school that did not use seclusion rooms. Two or three times over that period, law enforcement was called to remove a child who could not be managed by staff. Yes, those situations were traumatic for everyone involved, but that does not compare to the scale of trauma caused by seclusion in NHCS.

In 2021 alone, NHCS recorded 138 seclusions. The vast majority involved children with disabilities. Black children were secluded four times as often as whites. We’re throwing vulnerable children into solitary confinement. The school district is contributing to the “school to prison pipeline” by acclimating kids to prison-like punishment.

Teacher safety is important, but teachers are less safe when they’re compelled to do work School Resource Officers are trained to do. Positive Behavioral Intervention Strategies are a part of the Crisis Prevention Institute training for NHCS staff, so there are alternatives the school district has already employed in the past. The district doesn’t need to delay the vote for seclusion removal. 

With the testimony of local parents and the mental health community, we know seclusion causes trauma. A 2012 report from the US Department of Education stated that the use of seclusion exacerbates the behavior it aims to curb. Its misuse has killed children; five states have banned their use.

What we don’t have is a school board that has the moral courage to end this abusive practice. I do and I will press the new board to vote immediately for its removal. 

PCD: How should the district address two years of learning loss due to Covid-19?
MM: The learning loss resulting from the Covid lockdown is an emergency. Students are two years behind and schools continue to promote and graduate students who are failing academically. Additionally, the district used a 50-100 grading scale that exacerbated learning loss. This grading policy set up kids and teachers for failure.

Non-academic instruction, like SEL, needs to be dropped. It overburdens teachers and wastes time. We need to go back to the basics. Children should not be guinea pigs in an unproven educational experiment. If students fall behind in reading and math, they should receive tutoring, attend summer school, or be held back a year.

PCD: There are over 60 SROs across NHC schools. Is this effective for school safety? Why or why not? Should there be more measures implemented?
MM: There are a mere 60 SROs across the school district. While this is a good start, we need more. Many parents and students I’ve spoken to still do not feel our schools are safe.

Sixty SROs across 43 schools (1.3 per school) is insufficient. There is benefit to having law enforcement on school campuses; however, industry experts will tell us, real security is implemented in layers across time and space. Paid police are only a small part of a complete solution.

When certain types of volunteers have been brought into schools (veterans, parents, retired police officers, etc.), their presence on school grounds has been shown to decrease bullying and vandalism. This is another layer of security we should have in our schools.

This strategy addresses safety through different means than just authority and the threat of punishment. Community volunteers raise the standard or behavior in schools simply by being witnesses, but also by being role models. This can be especially beneficial for students who don’t have an adult male role model at home. 

Adults who students know from the community can often command more respect and trust. Students who would not confide in police officers about issues like bullying might be more willing to confide in community volunteers. Groups like Dads on Duty and Watchdog Dads would be a valuable asset for both our middle and high school hallways.  

PCD: The school board has faced calls to ban books in schools and offer more parental oversight of curriculum. How do you promote a relationship of trust between educators and parents and ensure both parties’ roles are respected? 
MM: Obscene literature is being disseminated to minors in our schools — a class 1 felony under state law. Any reasonable adult that reads “All Boys Aren’t Blue” will conclude its content is intended to sexually excite the reader. This book fails the Miller Test as set by the U.S. Supreme Court. There is no justification for this type of material to be in our schools; it should be removed. This book is just one example of the many obscene materials in our schools that have no educational value. 

Concerned parents aren’t the problem. Children are developmentally damaged by obscene literature, and that’s the problem. This isn’t an issue that divides parents and educators. Most teachers don’t want to expose children to obscene literature.

Parents have the right to know what their children experience in school and to participate in determining what that should be. The problem is the NHCS administration does not respect that right.

NHCS policy bars parents from entering school libraries to inspect materials. If parents are aware of concerning material, they may file a complaint, and at the discretion of the school, the material may be removed. However, it will only be removed from that school and remain in other schools’ libraries — with continued access through interlibrary loan or e-books. These policies obstruct parents’ efforts to monitor what schools are up to and make it hard to remove inappropriate material from schools. This needs to be changed.

I propose we create a book review committee comprised of parents and educators to review controversial material and determine whether or not it should be allowed in our schools. This would make the process transparent and communal, rather than opaque and confrontational.

Voters must elect school board candidates who understand their role as representatives of the community and a check against the power of unelected bureaucrats. The decision to flood our schools with sexually explicit material came from the state level, but we decide whether to go along with it here at the county level. 

PCD: Research has shown the district’s “neighborhood schools” districting policy has increased segregation along racial and socioeconomic lines reflected in Wilmington’s residential segregation. Do you think the district should redistrict using different techniques — why or why not?
MM: The districting question can be settled through a school choice initiative where school funding follows individual students to whichever school they attend. College students get to choose which school they attend. This line of “school choice” logic should apply to K-12 students as well. 

When the funding follows the student, it gives parents and students a choice: public, private, or charter schools. And the district’s schools will be forced to raise their standards in order to compete for funding. Competition breeds excellence. 

For some, the community in which a student resides is an important part of education. Some contend that many students and parents do not have access to reliable transportation. Transportation issues can be resolved by creating ride-sharing programs in coordination with new busing routes. 

We cannot continue to redistrict every five or 10 years. There’s no evidence that it has ever had any effect on overcoming historical disparities among groups. We should not expect to improve student performance by doing the same thing over and over.

PCD: Do you think schools are adequately staffed? Why or why not? Do you think teachers and staff are adequately paid? Why or why not?
MM: We need to determine and measure what it means to have adequate staffing. To truly know what our staffing needs are currently, a complete audit of the district needs to be performed. An audit will assist the board in determining the difference between actual staffing necessities and “luxuries.” The results of a real audit will easily provide the board and the community a receipt of wasted resources and a blueprint for education embetterment. 

I think we have opportunities to pay teachers more. We waste money on a bloated administration, and useless positions like chief equity officer, etc. If teachers feel like they can’t succeed with their kids even with a higher salary, more money won’t make them stay. 

PCD: Current board members, please, answer this: What is one action you’ve taken as a board member you would do differently and why? Potential new board members, please, answer this: What would you bring to the board that is missing right now?
MM: I’m an active educator with kids enrolled in the system. I have a holistic approach to education, with an understanding of what’s most favorable for the kids, the parents, the teachers and this community. Having a complete understanding of what our community is going through is what’s missing on this board.

I’m an independent thinking Republican. Some may not agree with me on everything, but you’ll always know where I stand. That’s why I signed the “Education Over Indoctrination Pledge.”

I will come to the table and work with anyone in order to improve the performance of our schools. Almost a quarter of our schools are failing. Our community can do better than that. We can and should have world-class schools for our students. There is no reason why we should accept less. The students are not failing; it’s the district leadership that is failing our kids. 

That is what I will bring to the school board: my 17 years of experience teaching, my holistic approach, and knowledge of various educational methodologies with proven efficacy.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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