On April 19, 2021, the Bladen County Board of Education and the Bladen County Schools Superintendent, along with certain members of his administration, colluded to strip me, my wife, and all the Parents of Bladen County school students of our constitutional right to participate in a public, in-person meeting. Below you will find my complete statement as was sent to the Bladen County Schools Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources and Administration, Antonia Beatty. (Please forgive the misspelling in Dr. Beatty’s title, I copied that directly from the Bladen County Schools website. See for yourself – HR – Human Resources / HR Staff (bladen.k12.nc.us) )
This statement was sent to Dr. Beatty on Saturday, April 24, 2021. I had a phone conference with Dr. Beatty on Monday the 26th, where she asked questions about the incident and stated that she was investigating accordingly. At the time of writing, there has been no action.
The events that transpired on Monday, April 19, 2021 beginning at 5:55 pm… I, Daine Smith requested to be added to the agenda to address the Board of Education for the March 2021 meeting. It was decided by the Board to conduct the March meeting virtually, so Ms. Dowd allowed me to submit a letter to be read aloud at that meeting. During our conversations, I asked Ms. Dowd to please add me to the agenda for the April meeting for the same. Ms. Dowd was kind and accommodating, even allowed my comments for the March meeting to be submitted past the Boards deadline since my request to address the Board in person had been denied due to their decision to meet virtually for that month.
When the agenda was released along with the public announcement about the April 19, 2021 board meeting being both in person and virtual, I assumed that my request to address the Board in person would be granted and so I, having a prepared statement with questions for the Board, arrived at the Board of Education at 5:55 and proceeded to enter the building. The entry has two doors accessible from the outside. I went to the North side door and was surprised to find it locked. I immediately went to the South side door to find it the same. I then read a note on the door that stated the meeting was virtual and I could follow a link to hear the meeting. This was very discouraging and likely a violation of local fire codes in addition to the obvious violation of my rights as a citizen to attend a public, in person meeting of the Board of Education.
After reading this note I sent a text message to Charlotte Smith, my wife and the BladenOnline representative that planned to cover the meeting for the public. Charlotte was already at the location arriving several minutes before me and she was not outside, so I assumed she was inside the building. My text simply stated, “I’m locked out”. Within a minute a Sherriff’s Deputy came to the door and informed me that I would have to wait out front at a table until the Board was ready for my address. I was confused; this is a public, in person meeting that I was going to speak in but was not allowed to listen to any other parts of the meeting. I asked the Deputy to explain this, and he stated that he was just doing his job and that he had been instructed to – not allow anyone into the meeting and that he would inform me when it was my turn to speak. During this same time, Charlotte Smith was escorted from the building by the Deputy and the door was locked behind her. I was sitting in the lobby and saw outside that Charlotte Smith had come back to the door, I unlocked the door, opened it, and closed and locked it post her entry.
Charlotte Smith and I both informed the Deputy that our rights were being violated by not being allowed to attend the public, in person meeting and Charlotte requested a conversation with the Sherriff, Jim McVicker. The Deputy called Sherriff McVicker on his mobile phone and gave the phone to Charlotte Smith so that she could speak to him. After a brief conversation with Charlotte, the phone was given back to the Deputy and he began a conversation with the Sherriff. The Deputy then requested Valerie Newton speak with the Sherriff and he gave the phone to Valerie Newton.
While Sherriff McVicker was on the phone with Valerie Newton the Deputy informed me that it was my turn to address the Board. I had a prepared statement with questions and began my address to the Board. Being frustrated with the current happenings and not understanding why myself as a vested community member and Charlotte Smith, being with the local media were not being allowed to attend the meeting, I went off script for the beginning portion of my comments to the Board. I addressed Roger Carroll, the board chair with the following: “Is this an in-person meeting?” Chairperson Carroll replied “Yes, it is.” I followed with, “If so, why can’t the media and I attend the meeting?” Mr. Carroll stated the Board is following the Governor’s guidelines, and they were allowing Mr. Smith to address the Board. However, given the circumstances, the Board had no cause to dis-allow anyone from attending the pubic, in person meeting. So, I asked that it be Duly Noted that there was an obvious violation of our rights not being allowed to attend the meeting. Chairperson Carrol replied, “Duly Noted”. After which I returned to my prepared notes and questions. None of the questions I had prepared were answered by the Chairperson.
As soon as I completed my comments, I exited the meeting room and entered the hallway. Charlotte Smith, the on-duty Sherriff’s Deputy and one other Bladen County Schools employee were there in the hall and I joined their conversation, voicing my disgust for being denied the right to hear the meeting. Shortly after I joined this conversation, Valerie Newton exited the meeting room and walked over to Charlotte Smith. Valerie Newton placed her left hand on right shoulder of Charlotte Smith. Charlotte took several steps back and stated, “do not touch me”. Valerie Newton began defending the decision to not allow folks in the meeting room due to the Governors orders requiring social distancing which seem hypocritical given her intentional close reaction just moments before when she touched Charlotte and was leaning in with her upper body as to have a personal connection. Additionally, the Mask that was Being worn by Valerie Newton was below her nose for nearly the entire interaction that ensued.
We all stood and talked for several minutes, arguing over the legality of what was happening. Seeing that this was an obvious overreach by the Board of Education and that there would be no forward progress, Charlotte and I exited the building and did not attempt to regain entry.
Unfortunately, our rights have been squandered. We have a prideful Board of Education and a Superintendent who will obviously not ensure that things are done properly under his watch. I personally feel a public apology is required. Someone with the Board of Education made an erroneous decision to post and publicize an in person and virtual meeting. Then they did not allow the public to participate nor the media to cover the meeting in person. This is simple, they messed up, there needs to be an apology to the public for this and there needs to be accountability for whomever made the decision to dis-allow our entry. Additionally, Valerie Newton should be held accountable for her actions. To think that the Board’s representative would use the Governors Social Distancing order as an excuse to remove selected people from the meeting room, even if they were abiding by the social distancing requirements, and then touch one of the two people she had removed. This action was intended to be spiteful and demeaning.
Since that meeting, I have received numerous calls from parents throughout Bladen County. Most recently, on May 6, 2021, I received a call from a parent that requested her child be held back due to his not having a productive year and her feeling that he was simply not educated to the level required to move on to the grade level.
Some of the situations that have been explained to me are heartbreaking. There are students behind on their learning but not their schoolwork. Let that sink in a minute. How could they be behind grade level but passing their classes? In some cases, students are behind on their work because they have no internet at home or simply inadequate internet that prohibits their ability to complete their schoolwork. I expected the State to cancel the End of Grade testing this year, but thankfully they did not cancel the testing. I am looking forward to the results; I would anticipate that unless they have greatly changed the test, it will show that there truly has been a year of learning that has been missed.
What is the goal of our School System here in Bladen County? There is no goal or mission statement on the Bladen County Schools website. I have gleaned much from the past 12 months from listening to their meetings, reading meeting minutes, and asking questions; mostly, my questions go unanswered. Unfortunately, it appears to me that the goal of this School System is to get our kids in and out in 13 years. That is it. Educated or not; prepared or not.
I did receive an encouraging phone call a couple of weeks ago, and it was followed by an equally encouraging meeting with two extremely kind and vested folks from East Bladen High School. Ms. Cox and Mr. Goins from East Bladen High School called me and expressed agreement with the lack of interest in the quality of education provided to all County Students by the Board of Education. Additionally, they agreed that all parents, school staff, bus drivers, and our entire community play a vital role in the education of our children. I had never thought about the bus driver being the first face that some students see in the morning and how important that a smile and a welcoming “good morning” might be to a student. Additionally, I had not given any thought to how the bus driver may also have great insight into the living conditions of the students on his or her route. We discussed so many ideas, and many valid points were made. I asked if they had any discussions with the Board of Education about their concerns and ideas; they explained that they had been very vocal with the Board and had attended many meetings, addressing the Board on multiple occasions. Not surprisingly, there was no forward progress at that level. Ultimately, I left the meeting thinking about the wealth of knowledge that was in our County School System and how underutilized that knowledge is. I have requested an explanation from the Board Chair, Roger Carroll about these happenings and I attached to my correspondence all the relevant statements made by Mr. Goins and Ms. Cox as are recorded in the Board of Education meeting minutes. Additionally, after reviewing over three years of meeting minutes, I found that two other educators made a similar request. What is not found in any of the meeting minutes that follow their request is any action on the matter. It is simply never addressed by the Board. I personally find this unacceptable. If our School Teachers and School Staff are unable to have comments, concerns, and request addressed by our Board of Education, then whose Board of Education is it, really? I certainly do not feel that I am represented at all by this Board, do you? Where do we go from here? Board members are elected every four (4) years in the General Election. It will take many years to replace them. Should they be replaced? In my opinion, unless there are some substantial changes made in the manner that they conduct business and the level of transparency is greatly increased; unless they can improve their communication with the parents and teachers in this County and unless the quality of education for our children is put back on top of the priority list, then I vote yes – they should absolutely be replaced. Folks, pray that our educational system changes. Our future quite literally depends on it. Also, be thinking – who could we elect that would work for our children? If this Board is unable or not willing to change, and do so soon, we will need some good candidates.
Thoughts? Send me a message, an email… Call me.
by Daine Smith