New Hanover Co. School Board hosts first public participation meeting

The New Hanover County Board of Education held its first public participation meeting on Tuesday night.

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — The New Hanover County Board of Education held its first public participation meeting on Tuesday night.

Two hours were set aside for public comment but it ended up only taking up about 30 minutes of the meeting. Because only about a dozen people signed up to speak.

Many of the speakers were a part of the Love Our Children group, advocating for the end of suspensions for four, five, six, and seven-year-olds.

“Principals should still have the authority to suspend students for bringing guns and drugs to school or committing a violent assault,” Alicia Ogundele said. “Our goal is not to have zero suspensions, our goal is to prevent four, five, six, and seven-year-olds from being suspended for minor infractions.”

Others expressed concern for comments made by the board’s attorney during a hearing last week to dismiss a civil lawsuit against the board for claims of its inactions concerning sexual assaults by former teacher Michael Kelly. Leslie Posey, a retired teacher with three decades of experience, spoke about several trainings she went through as a teacher to keep children safe.

“Last week, listening to the legal hearing concerning Mike Kelly’s victims, I heard from your attorney, Mrs. Stagner, quote ‘the school district does not have a fiduciary duty or legal obligation to protect its students while they are at school,’ end quote and quote ‘public schools are not insurers of their student’s safety,’ end quote. Since Mrs. Stagner is representing you, I have to assume you agree with her statements in court. This is shameful,” Posey said.

However, because of the call to the audience format, members of the board could not respond to the comments, only listen. Chris Sutton, a concerned member of the community, spoke about his displeasure with this format.

“It’s amazing what we can resolve through communication. Unfortunately what’s going on today is not what y’all discussed, it’s not what y’all voted on,” Sutton said.

In previous meetings, the board discussed a town hall format that would allow the board to engage in conversation and answer questions. This is something board members, like Judy Justice, hope to see in the future.

“If we had the open dialogue, that would possibly, with some people especially, get them to feel like they could trust us more and they actually heard answers that were valid,” Justice said.

The board also had other items on the agenda for Tuesday night’s meeting, something Board Chair Stephanie Kraybill says is not the plan for future public participation meetings so there is more time for dialogue.

“We want the dialogue to be positive at all times. Even if it’s a negative subject, it doesn’t mean that the dialogue has to be negative,” Kraybill said. “You can get positive stuff out of it and that’s my intent. I think that’s our whole board’s intent.”

Board members also hoping for more participation. Nelson Beaulieu says the 4 pm on a weekday timing likely contributed to the low attendance.

“I think anytime we can get more people to speak with us it’s important. I think it’s always good to hear from as many voices as possible.”

Kraybill says the next public participation meeting will be in the summer around back-to-school time and will likely have a different format.

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