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Public comment policy generates heat at School Board meeting

The Stanly County Board of Education turned heated quickly on Wednesday night when two persons who had registered to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting were not present when called.

Board Chairman Jeff Chance, citing board policy, declined to permit non-registered speakers to fill the unoccupied slots, resulting in loud dissent from an audience of around 70, most of whom were present in opposition to students and teachers being required to wear masks.

Prior to the public comment time, Chance had read the following statement regarding expectations for the upcoming school year as to mask requirements for students and staff: “The North Carolina Schools Toolkit, which covered the 2020-21 school year, is set to expire, along with the governor’s mask mandate, on July 31. Therefore, we as a district do not anticipate, nor are we planning at this time for our students to return to school in August under any kind of a mask mandate,” drawing applause from those in the gallery. Chance then continued, stating, “North Carolina Public School Superintendent Catherine Truitt put out a similar statement today, and in it she also supports that each LEA (local district) have the choice to decide for themselves whether students should or should not wear masks in the classroom.”

Prior to the comments, Chance read the board’s public comment policy and protocol. In addition to requiring that all speakers be registered prior to the start of the meeting and limited to three minutes each, Chance noted, “during the public comment period, the chair will recognize speakers in the order in which they signed up. Substitute speakers will not be permitted, and speakers may not donate any portion of their unused time to another speaker.”

Five speakers (Jason Phibbs, Deanna Dennis, Andrea Culp, Patty Crump and Amy Phibbs) then spoke, all stating their opposition to any mandate that masks be required. Dennis, a teacher, recognized a number of students in attendance who also requested that mask requirements be abolished.

The final two registered speakers on the list (Katelynn Burgess and Justin Helms) were not present when called upon, after which Chance prepared to move to the next agenda item before being interrupted from the gallery.

“There are seven minutes left,” Jared Troublefield said. “We all showed up tonight to speak.”

“But you didn’t sign up to speak,” replied Chance.

“Y’all are not God, to sit up there and dictate,” said Troublefield, walking toward the front of the meeting room. “We put y’all in there. These kids have dealt with this for over a year, and you can listen to what they have to say for seven minutes that are ours anyway.”

“Sir, all the speakers here who signed up got their three minutes,” Chance replied. “It is protocol. I can’t let you speak, I’m sorry.”

“Protocols are stupid,” retorted Troublefield. “You see what protocols have got you?”

“You all remember this come voting season,” he added.

“Resign now,” another gallery member shouted.

Chance immediately called a 10-minute recess, and after re-convening, the board moved into closed session to discuss personnel matters.

Following the meeting, attendee Lynn Shimpock stated disagreement with Chance’s comment on Truitt’s statement.

“She said she was hopeful that each LEA be able to choose for themselves, not that she supports it,” said Shimpock.

Truitt’s exact statement, according to the Associated Press, reads as follows: “Knowing that school districts are entering the new school year with higher vaccination rates for adults gives me hope that we will see mask mandates removed for K-12 students in the fall,” Truitt said in a statement. “As a proponent for local control, I believe this should be a local decision.”

In other business, the board:

● Recognized Western 1A Softball Champions South Stanly High School and coaches David Poplin and Matt Little.

● Recognized 2A State Softball Champions West Stanly High School, and retiring coach Craig Carter.

● Recognized 1A State Men’s Triple Jump Champion Ali Currie, and coach Bernard Henry.

● Recognized 1A State Women’s Triple Jump Champion Taegan Lowder, and coach Teresa Davis.

● Awarded the 2021-22 Child Nutrition Contract to low bidder Gordon’s Food Service.

● Approved quarterly planning days on Oct. 8, 2021, Dec. 17, 2021, and March 11, 2022.

● Approved the Stanly Academy Learning Center Accountability Plan for the 2021-22 year.

● Approved a number of budget amendments, a budget increase for ongoing maintenance of the South Stanly High School track, a preliminary finance statement and a continuing budget resolution.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the board will be on July 6.