A large crowd is expected to attend the Orange County Schools Board of Education meeting Monday night – the first board meeting since a surprise shakeup in board leadership earlier this month.
With no discussion in open session at the meeting on May 6, the board voted to appoint Will Atherton as board chair and Tony McKnight as vice chair, replacing Brenda Stephens and Sarah Smylie respectively. Smylie had announced her intention to step down as board vice chair, triggering a series of 4-3 votes resulting in the new chair and vice chair.
During the voting process, members of the public voiced concern over the board’s actions and the lack of public discourse.
“We’re supposed to get an opportunity to speak,” one said.
Another member of the public continued to speak as the board was voting via write-in ballot on who would be chosen to lead the board.
“This is not ok, at all,” she said. “I’ve never witnessed anything like this.”
Concern from the community ranged beyond the public nature of Monday’s decision, to also point out that the four male members of the board were voting – against the votes of the three women on the board – to remove the black, female board chair. Stephens appeared to attempt to reassure the public.
“They can take the chair, but they cannot take the voice,” Stephens said.
The Hate-Free School Coalition in the county, an advocacy group pushing for reforms in the school district, is working to mobilize community members to attend Monday night’s meeting and oppose the recent board restructuring.
Atheron has indicated to the News & Observer and the News of Orange that the decision to restructure the board was related to decisions made during a recent investigation of an incident in the school district. Atherton has not returned requests for comment to WCHL.
The board will have to hold another leadership vote in July.
Monday night’s meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at Gravelly Hill Middle School.