NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Melissa Mason, a Republican, is striving for one of the four up-for-grabs spots 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. The paywall is dropped on profiles to help voters make informed decisions ahead of casting their ballots.
As a reminder, the early voting period runs from Apr. 28 to May 14. The voter registration deadline is Apr. 22. Voters may partake in same-day registration throughout the two-week early voting period (check if your registration is active at your current address).
Primary Election Day is May 17. Voters will choose which candidates from their registered party they want to move forward in the formal election. Those who are registered as unaffiliated can choose which party’s primary they want to vote in.
Mason’s stances on issues are discussed below. All answers are included in full and the candidate’s opinions and statements are not a reflection of Port City Daily. Responses are edited only for grammar, spelling and clarity.
Port City Daily (PCD): What is your top priority and how would you address it?
Melissa Mason (MM): Stop the grooming and abuse of our children, and refocus on the basics: reading, writing, and math.
I would get rid of: [social and emotional learning] SEL, which sexualizes children as young as kindergarten age; [equity, diversity and inclusion] EDI, which discriminates and segregates; and [critical race theory] CRT, which teaches a false history and institutionalizes racial discord. Foust needs to go, as do the EDI committee and EDI teams, for a start.
Showing kids pornography is unacceptable. Having summer STEM programs that are essentially “no whites allowed” is unacceptable. A superintendent who recruits Sophic Solutions with discretionary funds and extends their contract behind closed doors is unacceptable.
Schools should educate, not indoctrinate; and they should serve the community, not a political agenda.
PCD: Mask mandates. Canceled proms and sports. Virtual schooling: How would you describe the current and past leadership’s management of Covid-19? Moving toward an endemic phase, what is your stance on how the board should weigh public health into its decisions?
MM: The mandates that this school board forced upon our students for the duration of Covid-19 failed them miserably. The school system is not a medical facility and should not act as such. Masking is a medical choice made by the parents or guardians.
Additionally, virtual schooling is detrimental to our children’s education and is evident in each classroom within our schools, in both the behavioral aspect as well as in academics. Our children are failing because they lost almost two full academic years of education. It is unconscionable that the school board ignored advice from licensed medical providers and violated the rights of parents in the name of “safety.”
PCD: What is your opinion on the district’s current salaries and staff morale? What changes would you advocate for, if any, and how so?
MM: When comparing teacher pay in New Hanover County to those in most other counties, it is reported that our teachers have the highest pay in the state. I do not believe salaries are the biggest struggle for teachers. I believe teachers are overburdened with responsibilities: continued educational training on teacher work days; equity, diversity and inclusion tasks; dealing with children’s behavioral issues; and increased assessment tools. Our educators are worn down. Teachers also fear for their safety while at school. We will continue to lose good teaching staff with these expectations and burdens.
Additionally, the work culture is toxic. Teachers and other staff members fear retribution for speaking out about concerns. We need to remove some of the excess responsibilities from the teachers, beginning with EDI expectations. We need to add more school resource officers and volunteer role models. This will assist teachers with support for students who are struggling with behavior issues within their classrooms. And we need to fire Faust for being complacent about the toxic work environment.
PCD: Some community members have expressed a desire to see less invasive measures taken in a school setting. Where do you stand on suspensions and seclusion rooms?
MM: Seclusion room use in this county is excessive. As a county, we make up for approximately half of all use across North Carolina. We need to investigate this and find a better solution. Many counties in this state do not even use seclusion rooms. Our county can move toward eliminating their use and abuse by providing training and support to those who need it most.
There are proactive alternatives to the use of these rooms. Additional support staff, including volunteers who are trained to de-escalate situations, should be made available to teachers who are struggling the most. Parental involvement and education is vital to the students who experience limited coping skills.
Suspensions are necessary when a student is a danger to themselves or others. Parental involvement will hold students accountable for their behaviors and ensure the student’s success. Repeat offenders should be given referrals for support services outside of the school.
PCD: Do you think community members, parents and staff members have a platform to be adequately heard? How can the district improve?
MM: Our current school board is failing parents and taxpayers of New Hanover County. Many parents fear sharing their concerns for fear of retribution against their children. We are a community unheard and frustrated, I believe we need to have regular town hall meetings with the community where there is civil dialogue between board members, parents, staff, and community members.
PCD: What needs to be done to make schools safer?
MM: Our schools are unsafe for our students. If a student walks into his/her school fearful of bullying, aggression, threats, or gang-related activity, he/she is unable to focus on learning. With an increased and consistent presence of school resource officers and volunteers (i.e. retired military members, firefighters, and community leaders, family members), in the high traffic areas of our schools, students are less likely to participate in bullying activities. In other states, there have been programs implemented by fathers of students (i.e. Dad’s on Duty, Watchdog Dads) that have been proven successful with the reduction of violence and bullying in the schools. High school students in our county have indicated, through a survey reported in February of this year, that this type of action would allow for them to feel safer in their schools.
I’m also hearing that gang activity in our schools is rampant, yet the sheriff’s department has not attributed a single arrest to gang-related activity. This needs to be investigated.
PCD: How comfortable are you with the way the district uses local funds?
MM: I believe school funds are not being spent wisely. The first step is that there needs to be an audit of the school system. Any and all programs that do not have the goal of improving student academics, need to be removed and defunded. There needs to be a freeze on any new hires within the central office.
The creation of a chief equity officer was an unnecessary and wasteful decision of our superintendent.
Most recently, the district sold functioning tablets and other devices to purchase new devices. If these devices worked well enough to auction off to the community, why were they not sufficient for our students? Our students need to get back to more hands-on learning and do not need the latest and greatest of tablets. Tablets are a tool, not a replacement for an educator.
This board continues to state that they have limited funding for raises but wastes money on technology that is not integral to our students’ academics.
PCD: Is there an additional issue or issues you think need(s) to be addressed during your term, should you win?
MM: There are multiple inappropriate books that our students have access to within our libraries. Upon reading several of these books, I found multiple instances of sexual assault, racial slurs, inappropriate language, and themes that are not developmentally appropriate for our students. If these books cannot be read aloud in a public forum such as a “call to audience,” our children should not have easy access to them.
I believe a committee should be established to address the ordering and vetting process of the books that enter our libraries. This committee should involve educators and parents collaboratively working to get high quality reading material into our schools and low quality reading material out.
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