Sunday, July 14, 2024

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

Members of the NHCS policy committee discussing various policy changes on Sept. 19, 2023.

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — State Republicans may see one of their educational visions come to fruition — at least in one district — without having to pass any legislation at all.

READ MORE: Parents debate what and how NHCS students should learn about racism, removal of ‘Stamped’

The New Hanover County Schools policy committee advanced a proposal for  standards of professional conduct on Tuesday. The new policy is 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 states employees shall “ensure dignity and nondiscrimination in schools by not teaching students or compelling students, teachers, administrators, or other school employees to affirm or profess belief” in concepts related to racism or sexism. 

Such concepts include affirming 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 overthrowing of the government or that the rule of law does not exist. 

The full text, noting what should not be promoted in public schools, is as follows: 

  1. One race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex; 
  2. An individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive; 
  3. An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex; 
  4. An individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex; 
  5. An individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex; 
  6. Any individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress; 
  7. A meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist; 
  8. The United States was created by members of a particular race or sex for the purpose of oppressing members of another race or sex; 
  9. The United States government should be violently overthrown; 
  10. Particular character traits, values, moral or ethical codes, privileges, or beliefs should be ascribed to a race or sex or to an individual because of the individual’s race or sex;
  11. The rule of law does not exist, but instead is a series of power relationships and struggles among racial or other groups;
  12. All Americans are not created equal and are not endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and
  13. Governments should deny to any person within the government’s jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.”

The 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 has not passed both chambers.

During Tuesday’s meeting, NHCS Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Christopher Barnes said section Z’s inclusion could use a little more conversation.

“It sort of has the potential to overlap into the delivery of instruction and curriculum, so I think that might bear a little more review,” Barnes said. 

The policy’s inclusion comes a few weeks after the board voted to temporarily ban “Stamped” from classroom curricula.

CATCH UP: School board temporarily bans book on American racism from NHCS classrooms

Barnes also reported the policy was brought to staff by Jonathan Vogel, the district’s legal counsel; after some discussion on the policy itself, Vogel clarified that was not the case. 

“I want to make sure I make clear this was not a recommendation of mine that the board have a policy 7205,” Vogel said Tuesday. “I’m happy to have it, but this wasn’t a recommendation from the board attorney.”

Vogel — whose contract is up for renewal in December — said he and Barnes had a discussion a couple months ago about why a policy like 7205 was not in the manual, to which Barnes pointed to what was already on the books, including policy 7300 on staff responsibilities. The assistant superintendent did not address the origins of the policy again, though committee chair Josie Barnhart spoke to his concern about the language’s placement.

“I hear what you’re saying and there’s definitely some overlap, but I think with that lens of understanding that the purpose of this section is to ensure well-rounded instruction,” Barnhart said. “I think most individuals in our profession would understand that.”

On Tuesday, Port City Daily asked a district representative to clarify who recommended the policy and who wrote it. 

“The district has reached out to the attorney and will have further discussion with the board,” Russell Clark wrote in an email.

Attempts to speak with policy committee members Josie Barnhart and Pat Bradford, also vice-chair of the school board, went unanswered, along with attempts to reach Vogel.

Stephanie Kraybill — who was absent from the meeting on vacation — did respond to PCD Tuesday night. She sent Barnhart her comments ahead of the meeting. 

“I am opposed to the changes to 2130 [code of ethics] that you and Pat have suggested so you guys have it,” Kraybill wrote.

The committee took up the code of ethics and invocation policies after the board reverted them back to committee earlier this month. 

In discussion since May, the proposed amendments to the board’s code of ethics would allow for members to be penalized for violation, including by removal of committee assignments per majority vote. It also outlines criminal charges that could be incurred for failure to exercise duty. 

Barnhart, Bradford and board chair Pete Wildeboer have been in favor of the amendments, but haven’t been able to gain approval from their Republican colleague Melissa Mason for passage.

“To sit here and discuss accountability, it’s not about a gotcha moment, it is not about something that is out of lines,” Barnhart said at the meeting Tuesday. “We have procedures and policies in place that, when there’s an issue that arises, we have protocol to back this up. That is the whole purpose of having this accountability paragraph here.”

As a compromise, Bradford suggested removing the language on criminal charges, stating that part “seems to rile up some board members.” Vogel clarified that taking the language out would be insignificant, as board members can be charged per state law.

The policy will go back to the board without changes. 

There has also been disagreement over a new policy regarding the invocation process. Its new draft was prompted by an American Civil Liberties Union North Carolina complaint that the board’s invocations were overwhelmingly Christian and the prayers were sectarian in nature. The ACLU argued it violated the First Amendment, which prohibits state endorsement of any religion. 

ALSO: NHCS drafts new policy for meeting prayers; controversial ethical code, curriculum also discussed

However, Bradford took time to point out the words “separation of church and state” were not part of the U.S. Constitution.

“Our founding fathers wrote our founding documents to protect us for justice in such a time as this,” Bradford said. “They knew that in the future things would be challenged, and it’s been a great learning experience to go back and read the First Amendment, to read the court cases on this. I’m better aware of what our rights are and learning the common myth about separation of church and state — it’s just that, a common myth. It’s not in the documents anywhere.”

While not in the Constitution, the concept does originate with Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, who used it in writings to describe the First Amendment’s establishment clause. The “separation” concept was affixed to the religion Clauses of the Constitution in Everson v. Board of Education, a 1947 Supreme Court case dealing with a New Jersey law that allowed government funds to pay for transportation of students to both public and Catholic schools. 

Citing Jefferson, the court concluded: “The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach.”

However, the problem the school board members had with the policy was allowing the chair to pray in the case the meeting is absent a speaker. The committee did not address these concerns, instead sending it back to the board with only one change — a reduction of speaking time from 5 to 3 minutes.

Both Barnhart and Bradford approved the invocation policy.

“In 2315, I oppose having a board member give the invocation,” Kraybill wrote to PCD. “There is too much to comment about for the others.”

She went on to say she did not watch the policy meeting, but she thought her presence would not have made a difference in the outcome of which policies moved forward.

“Ms. Barnhart and Ms. Bradford always vote in lock-step, appearing to me to have discussed the policy changes ahead of the meeting,” Kraybill wrote.

Barnes also presented another new policy, outlining guidelines to fraternization between a supervisor and subordinate in the district. The policy states employees must report their intention of entering into a romantic or sexual relationship with each other. Upon doing so, one employee must either transfer to another position, which eliminates the supervisory/subordinate role or resign. 

Employees must also make the district aware of a situation where they could be promoted to a position with a supervisor/subordinate relationship with their partner; the policy states the district has the right not to hire nor promote someone in that circumstance, even if they are the most qualified.

Port City Daily asked the district what this policy’s creation was prompted by but did not receive an answer by press. 

Barnes also presented amendments to several other policies including issues like student/staff relationships, job abandonment, and profane language. All will go before the board for final approval on Oct. 3.


Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com.

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