Saturday, April 20, 2024

NHCS professional conduct policy passes committee, despite Student Voice displeasure

Student ambassador Aparna Dhulipa reports the results of a student opinion survey on policy 7205 to the NHCS policy committee. (Port City Daily)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — More than half of surveyed students in New Hanover County take issue with a controversial section of a policy now headed back to the school board.

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

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

Student ambassadors went before the NHCS policy committee on Tuesday to present findings from their student opinions survey on the proposed policy 7205: Standards of Professional Conduct. Since September, the district has been reviewing this new policy, in particular section Z that prohibits educators from teaching certain beliefs related to racism, sexism and the founding of the United States.

At last week’s regular meeting, board member Josie Barnhart made a motion, which failed to gain a second, to eliminate the Student Voice policy after a debate over whether the student ambassadors could speak at the policy committee. Barnhart said she thought it was inappropriate for them to do so but was ultimately outnumbered in the vote. 

As policy committee chair, Barnhart gave the students 5 minutes for their presentation.

In total, 60 students from five high schools and three middle schools were interviewed; 42% said they opposed the inclusion of section Z, 18% said they had concerns over certain tenets, and 33% said they were in favor of the section in its entirety.

The students expressed a desire for a neutral class environment free from discrimination, one in which teachers were trusted to deliver accurate and complete information in a manner they best serves their class. Section Z could negatively impact those values, according to the student ambassadors.

On Tuesday, student ambassador Aparna Dhulipala told the committee student responses emphasized “the importance of covering historical events in their full complexity.” She added the students “oppose certain stipulations of Section Z that might lead to omitting or oversimplifying significant historical narratives and discussions.” 

The students were specifically wary of tenets 7, 8 and 11 in section Z, which state:

  • 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; 
  • 11: The rule of law does not exist, but instead is a series of power relationships and struggles among racial or other groups.

The Student Voice data mirrored similar statements made by NHCS Superintendent Charles Foust in November. He called section Z offensive, not only to staff but also to him.

“The Constitution was not written for me,” Foust, who is Black, said at the November policy meeting. “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. 

Despite the concerns, the policy committee made no changes to 7205; instead, Barnhart and committee member Pat Bradford voted to pass the policy along to the board. Stephanie Kraybill dissented. 

This will be the second time the board will review the policy; it reverted it back last fall for further review of section Z.

“I think in hindsight, we really did a disservice to our students when we did away with civics and teaching about the Constitution and teaching about the Declaration of Independence,” Bradford said at the meeting on Tuesday. 

Kraybill asked Chief Academic Officer Patrice Faison to fact check Bradford’s statement; Faison confirmed the district does have a civics class and educates students on the Constitution and Declaration of Independence.

Kraybill said she thought the board should rely on its teachers’ professional judgment and called section Z an “intimidation factor.” 

She also pointed out the section is taken verbatim from House Bill 187, a state bill introduced to the General Assembly in February co-sponsored by Rep. Frank Iler (R-Brunswick). The bill did not pass either chamber. 

How it ended up as an addendum in the NHCS 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.

Port City Daily filed a public records request for emails mentioning the policy or H.B. 187 between Barnes and Vogel. It was submitted on Oct. 18; six weeks later, PCD was told the “documents within the parameter of the request were sent to the Vogel Law Firm for review/redaction.” 

According to Vogel, “there are no responsive, non-privileged documents,” indicating the emails are not public record.

PCD has requested clarification on how many documents were being withheld and why, plus the state statute that exempts them from public release. By press, NHCS has failed to provide PCD an explanation. 

Last week, district spokesperson Salvatore Cardella told PCD he is awaiting Vogel’s response.

PCD reached out to Barnhart, Bradford and Kraybill for further clarification on how the policy would be enforced, their thoughts on the student survey, and how the policy could affect teaching of the state standards. No response was received by press.


Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com.

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