Signatures are being gathered for possibly the first recall election in Orange County history.
Parents of children in the Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools district filed an affidavit with the Orange County Board of Elections on Thursday for a recall election for CHCCS Board of Education members James Barrett, Pat Heinrich and Margaret Samuels.
County election officials confirmed they received the affidavit on Thursday. This is an unusual case, overall. CHCCS is one of two school districts across the state where a recall election is possible, officials said.
Orange County elections director Rachel Raper said Thursday evening that she was unaware of a recall election ever being carried out locally.
The effort is focused on the three board members who have been a target of parent criticism following a vote last fall to transition Glenwood Elementary School to a Mandarin dual-language magnet program. The school, which is the oldest and smallest elementary school in the district, has seen overcrowding issues in recent years as the school operated both a traditional track and a Mandarin track.
District staff were directed to work toward finding a long-term solution to the overcrowding issue, which resulted in a presentation last September showing that transitioning the school to the magnet program would allow more students into the program while also eliminating the overcrowding concern.
But that proposal drew immediate and harsh criticism from parents of students in the traditional track program at Glenwood who said they were not given proper notice of the plan and that district promises for more community meetings to develop a proposal were not kept.
The board ultimately voted 4-3 to approve the proposal. Amy Fowler joined Barrett, Heinrich and Samuels in supporting the plan.
Then-board chair Rani Dasi, Joal Hall Broun and Mary Ann Wolf voted against the proposal, saying there were too many unknowns at the time to make a decision.
A public records request by parents showed that Heinrich, who has a daughter in the Mandarin program, had met with parents who backed the idea to transition Glenwood to a magnet school. Dasi said after this revelation that she was concerned about trust among board members being able to have discussions without that board-specific knowledge getting back to one section of parents.
The board voted later in 2018 to delay the implementation of the program for another academic year because of concerns with having the pieces in place for a smooth transition, in terms of having qualified teachers and other logistics worked out to avoid complications.
In addition to targeting Barrett and Heinrich for recall, the parents said in a press release that Samuels was being included “for not holding these board members accountable after fellow board members and the public called for the public acknowledgement of the policy violations and breach of trust.”
Samuels was elected board chair in December by a 4-3 vote, falling along the same lines as the Mandarin magnet vote in September.
In order for a recall election to be held, the parents will have to gather signatures from 10 percent of the eligible voters in the CHCCS district as of the 2017 election, which translates to more than 7,000 signatures, according to the county Board of Elections. The signatures would need to be in place by March 28 for a recall election to be held, parents said in the release. Raper said there would be individual petitions for each board member, meaning each would need the required signatures to be up for a recall election.
All three board members targeted in this effort are up for election this November. Barrett has already said he is not running for re-election and is instead running for state superintendent in 2020.
Samuels sent the following statement in response to a request for comment.
The magnet expansion vote and the board member communications with constituents at issue occurred prior to my tenure as board chair. It is important to understand that there is no enforcement authority given to the chair of the board of education alone-board decisions are collective majority actions that can be initiated by a motion from any of the seven members. Additionally all board members take an oath of office to serve and uphold the duties of the office. My primary focus will continue to be the educational welfare of all students attending Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools and ensuring that all schools and programs meet the needs of every child in attendance.
Barrett issued the following statement.
From the very beginning of my campaigns for school board, I put openness and communication with constituents as two of my main priorities, widely publicizing my cell phone number and promising to talk with/meet for coffee any who asked. I have maintained that position throughout the past eight years. In the course of the brief Glenwood discussions leading up to the vote set by then-Board Chair Rani Dasi, I responded to/met with any who asked for my thoughts on the issue. Those who are unhappy with the outcome of the vote, and who have been so vocal in claiming impropriety, never tried contacting me. Had they, I would have gladly talked with them, as I have in more recent months. They may have been disappointed to learn that I didn’t plan to vote as they wished, but I would have explained my consistent reasoning over the years of Mandarin conversations and listened to their concerns, to gather any other information I hadn’t already heard or thought of that could affect my vote. I also did not share private information, because as a public body the board has nothing which is private other than what the law requires (personnel and specific student concerns). I have a track record of asking the board to release all of our emails on a web archive as a normal course of business (as other boards in the county already do) to show the public that this is the case.
I’ve done my best to act ethically, as transparently as possible, and in the best interest of all students in the district after weighing options. When in past votes I’ve been on the “losing” side, I have nevertheless supported the majority’s decision because this is crucial to a good-functioning board and district and, again, in the best interest of students and educators. These will continue to be my guiding principles.
Comments Heinrich will be added to this story when and if they are received.