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Poole, rally organizer express views on cheerleader incident during school board meeting

Stanly County School Board Chairman Melvin Poole directly addressed the public, including one member whose criticism on Facebook has received attention, in the second half of Thursday’s meeting at Stanly Commons.

The exchange came after lengthy comments from Stanly County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff James detailing his and the board’s reaction to an incident with the North Stanly High School cheerleaders.

A teacher posted a photograph that circulated online of cheerleaders and other students holding a banner that read “Trump 2020 Make America Great Again.” The cheerleaders were reported to have held up the banner before and after the Aug. 30 North football game began.

James detailed the school’s policy, based on a policy from the North Carolina School Board Association, to keep school systems neutral on political issues. He said the policy is not to prohibit students speaking their minds or engaging in their protected First Amendment activities.

The superintendent said no punishment was warranted by SCS, but the cheerleaders were asked not to display the sign again.

James also said SCS helped the cheerleaders in their appeal of the the probation levied against the team by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association. He announced the probation has been reduced and will be over by Friday’s home game.

Jeremy Bertino, a resident of Locust, said he wanted the board to tell the truth behind the reasons for the cancellation of the Sept. 20 home game for the Comets. Bertino and others said they rallied that night across from the school in support of the cheerleaders. School officials cited student safety from a threat as the reason for cancellation.

“The truth is, there was no threat, other than the threat of a lawsuit from the NAACP,” Bertino said.

Bertino said the threat was over the theme for the student section, which was to be Blackout Night — meaning students were encouraged to wear black clothing to the game.

He said the board tried to spin the narrative to say the rally caused the threat to the students.

Poole said the board has subpoena power but it is not necessary in this case. People were not lying, he said, but they might not have been in the loop.

“If you think you can bully me on Facebook and threaten me with an election, you’ve got the wrong guy,” Poole said. “I’m never going to put child safety over my political fortune. If you think the people in Stanly County are going to buy that junk, you need to go peddle your wares somewhere else. You don’t intimidate me one iota. I was in Vietnam dodging mortars before you were in diapers.”

Poole said he was not intimidated by the NAACP. He said no board member had been in touch with anyone from the organization.

“We need to move on with this and put it behind us,” Poole said.

Other board members voiced their agreement with SCS’ actions regarding the issues. Vice Chairman Ryan McIntyre said James reached out to him about the 50 officers for the game, which he said at $30 per hour would have run around $7,500 just for security.

“As a conservative, I can’t even make sense out of anywhere near that for security for a football game,” McIntyre said.

About Charles Curcio

Charles Curcio was the sports editor of the Stanly News & Press from 1999-2001 and has currently served in the same capacity since 2008. He was awarded the NCHSAA Tim Stevens Media Representative of the Year and named CNHI Sports Editor of the Year in 2014. He has also been honored twice by the North Carolina Press Association.

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